No one will ever accuse Lady Longhorn softball coach Greg Larkins of not being optimistic.
After watching his 1999 team wrap up the Central Division regular season with a ho-hum 5-5 record and knowing Payson will be moving to the state's most competitive division -- the East -- next year, the coach predicted a bright future.
Waiting to pounce in the East are beasts Snowflake and Show Low. Both will play in the state semifinals Friday and, through the years, the two combined have earned more state championships than any other pair of Class 3A schools.
In an early season tournament this season, Show Low humbled Payson 11-0 on a game shortened by the 10-run rule.
With the Cougars and the Lobos on the horizon, how can the future look good to the coach?
"Payson will be competitive even against teams like Snowflake and Show Low," he said, "because the (Horn) team returns seven starters including pitchers Tiffany Lubken and Sidney Swartwood.
"The freshmen did very well going undefeated, making prospects excellent."
The Horns will lose the services of only three players, due to graduation -- centerfielder Jadie Plummer, shortstop Joy Stidham and pitcher Monica Mendoza.
Plummer was one the the Lady Horns' top hitters, finishing with a .343 average that included 11 runs scored.
Stidham, a strong defensive infielder, hit .197, scored seven runs and had three RBIs.
With Lubken sidelined most of the year by a nagging foot injury, Mendoza was the Horns' chief pitching threat.
In a late-season game, with an 8-7 win over Cactus Shadows, Mendoza was at her best, opening on the hill and leading the Horns to the win.
Next year, Larkins said, Lubken should be fully recovered from the injury and Swartwood will have another year of experience, which will give the Horns two top-notch hurlers.
In Swartwood, Payson will also boast of one of the state's best hitters, as evidenced by her team leading .443 batting average in 1999 Central warfare.
According to team statistics, Swartwood led the team in runs scored (16), hits (16), RBIs (five), and was the only Horn to have more than one extra base hit, two doubles, during all-important Central games.
Other returning letter-winners and their batting averages are Alison Crabtree (.200), Brandyce Engler (.139), Eve Ketchem (.111), Jennifer McRae (.260), Jamie Peace (.211) and Sage Walden (.255).