Coach Jerry Daniels and his Lady Longhorns will be hard pressed to repeat the accomplishments of last season's record-setting basketball team.
During the 1997-98 campaign, Daniels' charges compiled a 23-5 mark, won the Central Division championship (14-0) and set both single-season (2,782) and single-game (102 vs. Globe) scoring records.
The squad also set a record for most consecutive wins (13) and earned the distinction of losing to only one Class 3A (Snowflake) team during the season. The Lady Horns also received the Central Division Sportsmanship award for the squad members' outstanding demeanor on the court.
It was a talented, spunky team led by senior veterans Daniels had molded since their freshman season.
One of the few goals the team didn't achieve was to reach the state tournament's elite eight and play in Phoenix Suns America West Arena.
At season's end, after a heartbreaking state tournament loss to Snowflake in Flagstaff, Daniels said he harbored a lone regret, "I feel bad for the girls -- we didn't get to play at America West."
New goals, lost players
This season, the coach says it is not his or the team's goal to try to live up to the accomplishments of predecessors. But the squad has set its sights on a second consecutive Central crown and a return visit to the state tournament.
Without the services of five players who graduated last spring and a junior who decided not to play basketball this season, the Horns will have to scratch and claw for victories.
"We might take a few lumps but we'll be in the hunt (for wins)," Daniels said.
Former team members who departed PHS with the class of 1998 include Amberlyn White, Molly Hunt, Erin Dahlman, Lindsey Heath and Raguel Reisdorf.
Jennen Shrum, a sophomore team member in 1997-98, did not try out this year.
White, Hunt and Dahlman will be tough to replace having been All-Central Division first team members.
Also, White was a high school All-American, Hunt a feisty point guard who did much of the ball handling and Dahlman a heady, four-year letter winner best known as "Hoops" because of her dedication to the sport.
The good news on the PHS hoop front is that senior Stephanie Robertson -- the Horn's leading scorer, rebounder and a Central Division first-team selection last year -- is returning to the fold.
As one of the nation's best heptathletes in track and field, Robertson has the athletic ability to take over a game almost single-handedly.
Few players in the state can run the floor, rebound, score and play defense as well as she.
As good as Robertson is, she is not the only ammunition in the Horn arsenal.
Also returning are highly talented sophomore Rheanna Martinez and All-Division first team veteran Sidney Swartwood.
Last season, Swartwood joined White, Hunt, Dahlman and Robertson in the starting line-up. Martinez was often first off the bench and was an All-Central second-team member.
Like Robertson, Martinez is a track standout during the spring months and is one of the fastest players in the Class 3A conference. Her blazing speed often allows her to out race opponents down court and free herself for uncontested lay-ups.
Swartwood, a veteran three-year letter winner, brings a multitude of skills to the line-up that allow her to contribute in all phases of the game.
Senior Elizabeth Gille, a reserve last season, might be ready to step into the starting line-up. Her experience and leadership will also be invaluable in the Central stretch-run.
Nikki Scholl sat out last season in order to play Payson club volleyball but has returned to the basketball program and is vying for a varsity starting slot.
Daniels also has a bevy of talented jayvee players from last year at his disposal. They include Alison Crabtree, Jamie Peace, Jenny Randall, Laci Tomerlin, Sara Siverson and Katlain Wilkins.
In the group are several strong rebounders who could provide the board work and lightning quick outlet passes necessary to spark Daniels' fast-break running game.
Jennifer Plumb, a standout on the Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade team last season, is an unknown in high school play but has impressed Daniels enough to earn a spot on the varsity roster.
Daniels says he hasn't settled on a starting line-up as yet but with two starters returning, he'll scramble to find three new people who will mesh.
His biggest task is to uncover competent ball handlers to replace Hunt and Dahlman who brought the ball up court and set the offense in 1997-98.
Preseason drills have emphasized ball handling, crisp execution and teamwork, Daniels said.
When on offense, the new line-up will continue to alternate between the Horns traditional two-guard front atop a high post and a single point guard feeding and cutting off double low posts.
Defensively, the Horns will stay with the man-to-man scheme utilized in past seasons as well as their patented 1-3-1 half-court trap that caused opponents fits last season.
The coach is also installing a new zone defense to give foes a different look and sometimes protect a player who lands in foul trouble.
The new edition of the Lady Horns feature some different faces, but the offensive and defensive schemes will be almost unchanged.
The Lady Horns will open the season in earnest at 7 p.m. Nov. 23 in Wilson dome against the Show Low Cougars. Action continues the following day at 6 p.m. in Eagar against the Round Valley Elks.
One of the campaign's highlights for both fans and players will be the 2nd Annual Payson Holiday Invitational that will be contested Dec. 21 and 22 in the dome.
Entered in the fray are teams representing Mesa Dobson, Gilbert, Phoenix North, Santa Cruz, San Manuel, Greyhills, Ganado, Miami, Globe, Apache Junction, Joseph City, Ray and St. Johns.
With three class 5A teams, a 4A squad and several strong runnin' and gunnin' Northern Arizona reservation schools in the field, the shoot-out could turn into a hoop lover's frenzy.
The Lady Horns will prep for the tournament by traveling to Needles, Calif., Dec. 3 to 5 for the Pepsi-Cola River Valley Shoot-out. Sixteen teams from both Arizona and California are entered. Payson opens against Parker at 9 p.m. Dec. 3.