It’s oddly appropriate that Zach Payne is a lifeguard during the summer since in the Air Academy boys’ lacrosse team’s biggest game of the season, he helped save the Kadets’ season.
Going into the playoffs, the Kadets were foundering. Wracked with on- and off-field problems, Air Academy went 3-3 over its final six regular-season games, including a loss to archrival Cheyenne Mountain.
“It was the first time I’d ever lost to them,” said Payne, who had been on the winning side of the rivalry his first three years of high school. “I was like, ‘we can’t end the season not beating them.’”
He and the Kadets got a second chance when the state playoff bracket was released. The first round of the playoffs brought a rematch with the Indians and a shot at redemption.
Payne had three goals and three assists to lead the Kadets to an 11-6 win. While they went on to lose in the second round to eventual state runner-up Cherry Creek, it was the win over Cheyenne Mountain that was the team’s defining moment.
“For me, that was the biggest game of the year,” Payne said. “It felt good because we had a rough patch, then came back to beat them.”
Payne, who finished the season with a 4A Metro League-best 43 goals along with 19 assists, will spend the fall semester at Northwest Prep School in California’s San Bernardino Valley with the goal of attending the U.S. Air Force Academy or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
“My mom and dad are both in law enforcement; I’d be the first one to go to the military,” he said. “I will already have a job outside of college and most people don’t. I’m trying to look at the big picture and I think that’s a good plan.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying his second year as a lifeguard at the Foothills Swim and Racquet Club’s pool.
“It’s fun to be outside and be sociable with people,” Payne said, adding that a little splashing by the kids will likely go unpunished under his watch. “I’m not really a picky person, so as long as nobody’s getting hurt, it’s OK.”
The lifeguard gig seems appropriate for Payne, who has the laid-back attitude and active physical life reminiscent of a California surfer dude. Besides lacrosse, he has played both golf and hockey at Air Academy. He also skis, water skis and wakeboards and has played for a summer touring lacrosse team, the Leathernecks, which is based in Dallas.
He balances the active schedule by having a glass-half-full attitude.
“I’m the kind of person that can get humor out of anything,” he said. “I see happiness throughout the whole day. There are always negatives, but I try to see the positive side.
“I try to make other people’s day better, I really do. I know that’s a cliché thing to say, but I do try.”