A crew of eight new kids on the block -- know also as Lady Longhorn volleyball team -- served notice on division rivals they'll be a force to reckon with when East Division action begins in earnest today (Tuesday).
Among the division's regular-season openers will be the Payson vs. Show Low battle, to be played at 7 p.m. in the Show Low gym.
The rude awakening the team sent to its lofty East opponents came in the form of a second-place finish in the 18-team Payson Invitational Tournament last weekend.
In the fray, played Friday and Saturday in Wilson Dome and the PHS gymnasium, the Horns advanced to the championship game behind the stellar play of all-tournament selection Rheanna Martinez.
Snowflake eventually ended the Horns' dream of a tournament championship with 15-11 and 15-4 victories in the finale, but the loss didn't dampen the spirits of first-year PHS coach Sue Weems.
"We have a very strong team that played well," she said.
In addition to a runner-up showing in a strong field that included most of the East schools, the tournament produced at least one other benefit.
"We saw some weaknesses that we can work on and improve. We'll use it (the tournament) to get better," Weems said.
Reaching the championship game of the tournament was a first for the Lady Horns in the three-year history of the invitational.
Last year, under former coach Steve Konvalin, the Horns turned in a third place showing and used that as a springboard to win the Central Division Tournament championship at year's end. In Saturday evening's gold medal game, played before a spirited crowd in the Wilson dome, the Lady Horns might have fared better against the Lobos had it not been for fatigue.
"We played three matches in a row and then had only about a 15-minute break before (the championship)," Weems said. "I think the girls were tired."
Struggling during the early going of the first game, the Lady Horns fell behind 10-3 but came roaring back to make a game of it. The rally, however, came up short and the Horns lost, 15-11.
In a second-game 15-4 loss, the Horns were simply no match for the well-oiled Lobo machine.
The Lady Horns will have another crack at Snowflake Sept. 18 in a regular season encounter to be played in the Wilson dome. That game, and another Oct. 19 in Snowflake, could affect the outcome of the East Division race and the resulting seedings into the state tournament.
With the eyes of small-school volleyball fans from around Arizona focused on Payson, the tournament tipped off with the 18 teams playing in three pools of six each for the right to advance to a championship double-elimination bracket on Saturday.
The Lady Horns, assigned to pool three, finished with a 9-1 record on Friday, losing only to the Winslow Bulldogs. The record propelled the Horns into the championship tournament as the three-seed against sixth- seeded Heber Mogollon.
The Mustangs, only a Class 2A school, gave the Horns fits in the tournament opener. The two teams split the first two games, which called for a tie-breaker under rally scoring to decide the winner.
Like two magnificant heavyweight fighters standing toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring, the Horns and Mustangs slugged it out before Payson finally salvaged a 7-6 victory.
With the hard-fought win, the Horns advanced to second round play against the defending tournament champion Ganado Hornets.
Showing the same spirited play that fueled them to the invitational crown last year, the Hornets rocked the reeling Lady Horns, 2-0.
Not ones to cry over spilt Gatorade, the Lady Horns came roaring back in the loser's bracket to whip Miami, 15-13 and 14-9. The second game ended on the time limit rule.
The triumph lifted the Horns into a second meeting with Ganado, which had earlier narrowly lost in the championship bracket to unbeaten Snowflake.
This time around, the Horns were primed to sting the Hornets.
"We came out on fire," Weems said.
After humbling the Hornets 15-4 in the opener, Payson inferno was rendered mere ashes in a 15-5 second-game loss.
The split set up the Horns' second rally-scoring playoff of the tournament, and this time they cruised to a 7-2 win.
"It really felt good to send Ganado home," Weems said. "They've been in the championship every year the tournament has been played."
With the victory, the elated but tired Lady Horns attained their goal of a berth in the championship.
The team came up short of a gold medal, but is now branded as an up-and-coming division stalwart capable of playing on an even keel with the best of the beasts of the East.