Only days prior to the tip off of the Pepsi Cola Invitational Tournament, Longhorn boys' basketball coach Randy Wilcox was elated he'd finally have a complete lineup of players to take to the three-day fray in Flagstaff.
During early season games, the team had been without four players who had been members of the state championship football team that didn't end its season until Nov. 28.
But his optimism was quickly extinguished when four of his players were sidelined with a malady of injuries and illnesses.
On the Horns' MASH unit were Hunter Walden, Jason Carroll, Joe Sanchez and Jeremy Reynolds.
Walden succumbed to a thigh bruise only a day before a Dec. 17 tournament opening 60-51 loss to Kingman. Earlier Carroll went down with an ankle injury and Sanchez with a foot problem.
Neither Walden or Carroll made the trip to Flagstaff. Sanchez accompanied the team as a scorekeeper.
The Horn injury toll continued to mount in the Horns' second tournament game -- a 80-57 loss to Flagstaff Sinagua -- when Jeremy Reynolds twisted an ankle in the first quarter.
Reynolds didn't dress out in the Longhorns third game, a 89-53 loss to the Winslow Bulldogs.
With the 0-3 showing in the tournament, Payson fell to 3-8 for the season.
The team will hold holiday practices Dec. 23 and 24 as well as Dec. 30 and 31 in preparation for a non-league encounter Jan. 2 in Monument Valley.
The team returns to all-important Central Division play Jan. 5 against Globe in Wilson dome.
By then, Wilcox said, "I'm hoping we have everyone back."
Without Walden -- the team's leading scorer last year -- in the tournament, the Horns had to rely on Jeremy Hoff for most of their offense.
In the loss to Kingman, Hoff paced the team with 16 points. Reynolds (13) was the only other Payson player to score in double figures.
Against Sinagua, Hoff tallied 12 and finished with 14 against Winslow.
Josh McRae struggled offensively in the tournament opener but rebounded to tally 16 and 15 points in the final two contests.
Ryan Lorentz contributed eight against Sinagua and 10 against Winslow.
In addition to being shorthanded with only eight players dressed out, Wilcox attributed the losses to poor charity shooting.
"We just didn't shoot (free throws) well -- against Winslow we were only eight of 17," he said.
The Horns also suffered from poor ball handing committing 28 turnovers against Sinagua.
Upcoming practice sessions would focus on correcting the Horn deficiencies for the crucial January stretch run, Wilcox said. During that month, Payson will play 10 Central Division games.
If the Horns are to earn an advantageous seed in the first round of the divisional playoffs Feb. 9, the team will need to finish in the top three of the final regular season standings.