Gibson's Lady Longhorns Ready For Australian Rematch

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Forget the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

The most exciting athletic competition ever to unfold Down Under is over and every member of the Payson High School girls' soccer team has come home a winner.

And here's the final tally of the seven games waged by the team against their Aussie counterparts: three wins, three losses, one tie.

Clearly, a rematch is in order. And nary one of the students who made the trip would mind one bit.

This international competition became possible when PHS coaches received a request from the sponsoring organization, GSI Sports Down Under, that they nominate a certain number of former and current student athletes for the 16-day excursion, PHS science teacher and coach Linda Gibson said.

GSI then contacted the players, and those who expressed interest both in traveling to Australia and raising the necessary $2,400 plus expenses each would require made the final cut.

Those who went on to represent soccer players from Payson were graduates Daviann Greiner, 19, and Jamie Peace, 18, along with 16-year-old students Lee Ann Owens, Jennifer Plumb and Ashley Grubbs.

Also on the trip were PHS baseball players Nick Brunson and Casey Parker, and boys team soccer player Jeremy Connor.

The team flew off toward the International Dateline July 13, returned to the states July 19, and in between played a total of seven official games in the Aussie towns of Cairns and Toowoomba.

"We lost the first game we played," Owens said. "We would have done a lot better if we hadn't just got off the plane. But the (Australian team) was really good."

And quite different from the American players, they all agreed.

"Some of them are really gung-ho on soccer, like it's all they do," Peace said. "They are very aggressive and competitive."

"However," Plumb added with a satisfied smile, "we did beat them."

Neither the players or their coach had ever been to Australia before, and all came home with a general consensus of impressions starting with their view of Vegemite, a yeasty bread spread beloved by Aussies, but typically hated by Payson High Schoolers.

Grubbs: "It's so nasty."

Plumb: "When I first tried it, I thought it was chocolate, but ... ewwww!"

Peace: "I ate crocodile. That was better than Vegemite."

Owens: "I refused to try it. Not for my taste buds."

Grubbs: "But their hamburgers were pretty gross, too."

Peace: "And their pizza had like barbecue sauce on it."

Owens: "And they don't know what ranch dressing is. It's very hard to try to explain ranch dressing to people who've never heard of it. And their ketchup tastes like cocktail sauce. But their bread was good."

Greiner: "The only thing I liked was the fruit."

When not playing soccer or turning their noses up at the local cuisine, the team members played the role of tourists posing for pictures while cuddling koala bears; indulging in what sounds like a theme-park ride that combines the principles of bungee-jumping and slingshots; snorkeling and scuba-diving above the Great Barrier Reef.

"I wasn't very impressed with it," Owens sniffed. "It wasn't as pretty or colorful as I thought it would be, and I didn't see a lot of fish."

Asked to recount their favorite memories, only Peace had an instant answer.

"I went to an all-boys school," she said with a grin wide as Tasmania. To back up her story, Peace plopped the boys-school yearbook on the table. "It was really fun, because you just walk in and all the guys are staring at you. I've never been looked at by so many people before."

"All in all," Coach Gibson said, "we had a blast. The girls played hard, but we had a lot of free time, too. And they were perfect angels at all times."

"It really was an incredible experience," Owens said. "And all of us learned how far sports really can take you. There are just so many things that sports can do for you."

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