After toiling for two years in the now-defunct Class 3A Central Division, the Longhorns are poised to return to the rugged East Division where PHS resided first in 1983 and then again from 1992 to 1996.
First-year volleyball head coach Sue Weems, a PHS alumna who played for the Longhorns when the team resided in the East, said she welcomes the return to the division despite the fact it is widely considered the most competitive in the conference.
"There's so many good teams there. Everyone looks tough. It will be a challenge for us," she said.
Battling the likes of perennial powers Snowflake and Show Low requires a talented group with height, and that's close to what Weems has at her beck and call.
"We have some good players and I think we'll have a fairly tall team, which is kind of unusual for Payson," Weems said.
Seniors the new coach can call upon to provide leadership and stability include Niki Scholl, Cassie Fulp, Eve Ketchem and Sara Schmidt.
Scholl, the coach said, will play either setter or outside hitter. Ketchem will hold down an outside hitter position, Schmidt is penciled in as a middle hitter and Fulp -- a three-year letter-winner -- as a setter.
Juniors on the varsity squad include outside hitter Brianna Marshall and multitalented middle hitter Rheanna Martinez. Both are quick, nimble athletes that should give the Lady Horns a strong strike attack and in-your-face defense at the net.
Rounding out the varsity team are sophomores Samantha Ellsworth and Brandi Waugh.
Waugh is no stranger to varsity competition, having earned a starting shooting guard position on the Lady Longhorn basketball team last winter. Ellsworth has only freshman and jayvee experience but is loaded with potential.
Assessing the team
After putting the team through more than two weeks of preseason practice and conditioning sessions, Weems said the strengths of the squad lie in the experience of the two setters -- Fulp and Scholl -- and the front line led by veterans Martinez and Schmidt.
All four were integral players on the 1998 team that struggled through much of the season but came on late to win the Central Division tournament championship and advance to state as a No. 1 seed. There, the team opened with a win over Wickenburg, but was eliminated by Monument Valley.
The players picked up even more playing experience in July when Konvalin took the team to Lakeside to participate in the two-day Blue Ridge Summer Invitational Tournament.
With only eight players on the varsity roster, the current team is much smaller number-wise that it has been in the past.
However, the new coach says there are several players on the Crystal Garvin-coached jayvee team that might be brought up to varsity once the season rolls around.
"Some of the jayvees look very strong," Weems said.
Currently 31 players are in the program, with 11 on the jayvee team and 12 on the freshman squad coached by Trevor Creighton.
In addition to a rugged regular-season schedule in which Payson goes nose-to-nose against the beasts of the East, the Lady Horns will participate in three tournaments. The first is set for Sept. 4 in Fountain Hills.
Next on the agenda is the Third Annual Payson Invitational, which will be conducted Sept. 10 and 11 in the Wilson dome.
The tournament, which traditionally draws 18 teams from around the state, is one of the premier small-school volleyball invitationals. Last year, powerful Ganado whipped Snowflake for the title. The Lady Horns finished third but say this year they are looking to improve upon that showing.
The tournament season wraps up Sept. 24-25 at the 3A East Division tournament in Lakeside.