The Lady Longhorns will be looking to repeat their miraculous feat of one year ago when they travel to Snowflake Saturday for the all-important East Division tournament.
In 1998, under the direction of former coach Steve Konvalin, the Lady Horns entered the Central Division tournament at Wilson Dome as a decided underdog, having lost several times to divisional co-champs Miami and Fountain Hills.
But rising to the occasion as if there were no place to hide, the Lady Horns somehow found the energy and talent to defeat much-heralded Miami in the semifinals. The win set up a championship clash against powerful Fountain Hills which was considered one of the premier teams in the state. After losing the opener 15-10, it looked as if the Horns would be forced to settle for second place. But the determined team pulled off the rally of the sports year to win the final two games 15-10 and 15-13.
With the Central championship in hoof, Payson entered the state tournament as the division's top seed.
After winning the first-round game, the dream season came to a screeching halt with a 2-0 loss in the quarterfinals.
Like last year, Payson will enter the East tournament as an underdog due to four losses -- two in the regular season and two in tournament play -- to Snowflake.
If the Lady Horns are to emerge victorious from Saturday's divisional shoot-out and win their second-consecutive title, they'll somehow have to reach into their bag of tricks and come up with the same magic they uncovered last year.
Lobos a nemesis
In the Horns' most recent outing against the Lobos, Oct. 19 in Snowflake, the White Mountain crew swept Payson in two games.
Coach Sue Weems attributed the loss to a lack of intensity in the trenches.
"We didn't shut them down at the net as well as in previous matches," she said.
The coach also bemoaned the team's lack of offensive execution but said the squad did play well defensively.
The Lady Horns rebounded from the disappointing loss two days later in Wilson dome by sweeping the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets in front of a parents' night crowd.
"We played well overall," Weems said.
Rheanna Martinez led the onslaught with seven kills; Sara Schmidt finished with five.
In junior varsity action against Blue Ridge, coach Krystal Garvin praised her crew for "an outstanding team effort" in its 2-1 triumph over the Jackets.
The junior Horns opened with a 15-11 victory, but dropped the second game 15-4 before recovering to win the rubber game 15-11.
The victory was especially meaningful for the team members in that it was a revenge of sorts for a 2-0 loss to the Jackets Sept. 28 in Lakeside.
In the victory over BR, the Horns were forced to play without their two starting outside hitters -- one of which was ill and the other academically ineligible.
So, the Horns turned to the spirited contributions of Laura Hatch and Brittany Curtis.
"They really stepped up and played well," Garvin said. The coach also lauded the efforts of the entire team. "This is the first game in a while that the girls really clicked and played to their potential," she said.
Carrie Garrett also shined serving 10 of 15 points in game one and seven of 15 in game three.
Jossie Gressley finished with 14 kills in the three games.
In freshman play, coach Trevor Creighton's squad wrapped up the 1999 campaign with a 2-0 win over the Yellow Jackets.
Following the game, the coach praised the team for its season-long improvement.
"The difference between the first game and the last was unbelievable in all aspects. At the end of the season the team stepped up and started becoming more aggressive. I'm excited to watch these players in the coming years," he said.
The frosh went through a see-saw campaign, opening with a win over Chino Valley but then falling to Globe, Round Valley and Blue Ridge.
By the end of the year, the team had rapidly improved enough to whip Alchesay and previously undefeated Show Low.
In Snowflake Oct. 16, the rookies took the powerful Lobos to three games before losing the final 15-11.
Creighton credited the success of the team to assistance from fellow coaches and more seasoned athletes.
"I got a lot of help from coaches Weems and Garvin and the jayvee players," he said.