Like Arizona weather, the high school sports scene heats up this week with all-star games in eight sports being contested at various venues throughout the state.
The contests, sponsored by the Arizona Coaches' Association, pit the most accomplished athletes from the recently graduated senior classes against one another in a final prep clash.
Being selected an all-star in a voting of ACA members at the conclusion of each season is one of the highest honors a prep athlete can attain.
"It's a dream you have for four years, since you were a freshmen," a past Payson all-star player said.
Through the years, PHS has produced a bevy of all-star players who have shined in the post-season celestial shoot-outs.
One of the most outstanding showings by Payson stars occurred in the 1987 football North vs. South game played in Prescott. Following a full week of practice sessions on the NAU campus in Flagstaff, Payson's four representatives earned starting positions on the South. They included quarterback Ty Goodman, wide receiver Ty Chilson and guards Mark Velasco and Matt Rambo.
This year, the school will have representatives in three of the eight all-star clashes.
In the baseball game which was played Saturday evening at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Brian Cork, Marc Bennett and Josh McRae were members of the South team that whipped the North 5-3.
Bennett contributed to the South's victory with a fifth-inning, bases loaded bouncer to the right side of the infield that scored Cactus Shadows' Adrian Antico from third. The run upped the South's lead to 4-0.
In the Class 1A-3A All-Star volleyball game to be contested June 19 at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, the South team will be coached by PHS's Steve Konvalin. On the squad is former Lady Horn standout Stephanie Robertson.
In the gridiron star game, to be played June 19 at Eastern Arizona, the Longhorns will be represented by Josh Barnhart, Ryan Lorentz, Jordan Sieverson, Cable Morris and coach Curt LeBlanc.
Coaching the volleyball stars
Since he took over the reins of the PHS volleyball program in 1994, Konvalin has led the Lady Horns to a long list of accomplishments capped by a Central Division tournament championship last fall. As the Central's top seed to the state tournament, Payson whipped Wickenburg 15-13 and 15-13 in the opening round, but was then eliminated in the quarterfinals by monument Valley, 17-15 and 17-8.
Konvalin, who will be coaching in his first ACA All-Star game, says he's excited with the opportunity and is looking forward to working with some of the state's best, including Robertson.
The coach characterizes his former team leader as "a great athlete and extremely hard worker who has a good attitude."
Robertson is one of the most talented all-around athletes to ever play for the Lady Horns, excelling in basketball and track as well as volleyball.
She will attend Northern Arizona University next fall on a track and field scholarship.
LeBlanc's appearance in the star game will be his final one as a Longhorn. The former Horn offensive coordinator resigned his PHS position last week and will take over as head coach at River Valley High School.
LeBlanc said the decision to leave Payson was a tough one but he was eager to assume his own program.
The all-star game, he added, will give him one last opportunity to work with the four Payson seniors. "I've had them since they were freshmen," he said.
Among those seniors is Barnhart who is on the all-star team as an alternate replacing quarterback Hunter Walden.
Originally, Walden was chosen to the team but could not participate due to a knee injury he suffered during the basketball campaign.
As a wing back/flanker, kicker and punter on the PHS varsity last season, Barnhardt played a huge role in the Horns' march to an undefeated season and the Class 3A state championship.
Lorentz, an inside linebacker in coach Mike Wheel's 52-defense, was one of the team's leading tacklers despite playing most of the season with rib and sternum injuries.
Next fall, the youngster will continue his football career at Arizona Western College in Yuma and says he'd like to someday play for a Division I or II university.
Sieverson, an offensive tackle in the Horns' power option offense, was the glue that held the offensive line together most of the season. Line coach Jack Morris called him one of the most consistent players on the team. His crisp, up-front scoop blocks enabled Horns backs to power through opposing defenses.
As a fullback and tailback in the Horn "O", Cable Morris -- the team's strongest player in the weight room -- built a reputation as a hard-nosed player whether it was running or blocking.
In the all-star voting, LeBlanc said, coaches from other conferences -- who had not seen Morris play -- threw their support behind his selection.
"They'd heard about him and that's all they (the coaches) needed," he said.
On the diamond
Behind the offensive and defensive exploits of Cork, Bennett and McRae, the Horns played their way to the school's first-ever state championship.
In batting .456, Cork led the Longhorns in at-bats (114), runs scored (52), hits (52), triples (6), stolen bases (13) and total bases (101).
Cork was also one of the Horns steadiest outfielders the past two seasons.
Since he was a sophomore, Bennett has been a varsity backstop in coach Teddy Pettet's baseball program.
This year he was the one responsible for handling the Longhorns' ace pitcher Bryan Zumbro, who hurled PHS to the state crown with a 23-11 win over Cactus Shadows in mid-May.
Bennett's most valuable contributions to the team-effort might have come on the defensive end but he was also a valuable offensive player, finishing with a .313 batting average, 31 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 19 RBIs and three home runs.
McRae, an outfielder, finished with a red-hot .469 batting average. In 96 at-bats, he had 12 doubles, two triples, two home runs, five stolen bases, 35 RBIs and 35 runs scored.