Walden Repeats Division Honor

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As Central Division basketball coaches met to select their all-division players, the main question in most minds was, did PHS senior point guard Hunter Walden play enough of the campaign to repeat the first-team honors he won last year?

Walden missed several early-season games due to a lengthy football season, then was sidelined with a knee injury only a month after his return.

But his efforts -- which included scoring an average of 21.3 points a game when he played -- were enough to influence the division's head coaches to again tap him a first-team member.

He was the Horns' only selection to the elite five. On the second team, the Longhorns placed Jeremy Hoff and Josh McRae. Jeremy Reynolds pocketed honorable-mention honors.

Hoff was the rock-solid player in the Payson lineup, showing up to practice only days after he played a prominent role in the Horns' long and rigorous march to the state football championship. His finest moments came in mid-season, when he turned in back-to-back games of 30 and 32 points. He finished the campaign averaging 15.1 points a game.

McRae was also one of the team's top offensive weapons, contributing 13.6 points a game. In addition, he led the team in rebounding (144) and was one of the division's best free throw shooters (75 percent).

Reynolds far-and-away paced the Longhorns in three-point shooting, hitting 42 treys over the course of the year.

The next best sharp-shooter, Walden, had only 14.

Like their Lady Horn counterparts, the boys can partially console themselves for an up-and-down season knowing they went toe-to-toe against the state's best.

Central Division champion Coolidge, which beat Payson twice on its way to a 29-4 record, captured the state championship Saturday with a 79-56 win over Benson.

The bad news for Payson in the Bears' winning the crown is that Coolidge returns sophomore point guard Mike Smith next season. His quickness and explosiveness were too much for the Horns -- or Benson, for that matter -- to deal with.

"We had a hard time matching up with him," PHS coach Randy Wilcox said.

But, next year the Horns will return to the East Division and won't have to deal with Smith's lightning-like moves unless the teams meet in tournament or postseason play.

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