Preseason practices are the bane of most prep athletes' existence.
The sessions are exhaustive, boring, tedious and the competition is always the same your own teammates.
For Payson High athletes, the dog days of preseason are finally at an end and the teenagers can look forward to the spirit and enthusiasm of competition.
The first to leap into prep frays will be the boys and girls hoop squads.
The Lady Longhorns host Fountain Hills at 6 p.m. (jayvee) and 7:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) in Wilson Dome. The boys teams travel to Fountain Hills today for games at 4:30 p.m. (freshman), 6 p.m. (jayvee) and 7:30 p.m. (varsity).
Wednesday, the defending state champion Longhorn wrestling team makes its season debut at 6 p.m. (jayvee) and 7 p.m. (varsity) in the Round Valley High School Dome.
Visiting the $11.5 million "Home on the Range" which seats 3,000 comfortably can be an intimidating experience for young athletes.
But for Payson wrestlers, the towering skylights which hover 104 feet above and synthetic grass of the ensphere are old hat. The team has been competing in the dome since it first opened in 1992, and for several seasons the 3A state championships were held there.
Some of the PHS veterans who have seen their share of mat warfare in the dome include R.C. LaHaye, Caleb Miller and Levi Armstrong.
In Round Valley, LaHaye will kick of his pursuit of a third 3A state weight-class championship. If he succeeds, the youngster will join Tyler Robertson (1993-95) as the only PHS wrestler to nail down a trio of state crowns.
Also, LaHaye will be looking to build on his already sterling career to attract the attention of college recruiters. At the conclusion of last year, he said his goal was to earn a Division I college athletic scholarship.
His naming to the prestigious All-Arizona team last season was a step in the right direction to earn the scholarship. Another banner campaign capped by a state title would layer icing on the recruiting cake.
Both Miller and Armstrong were state runners-up last year and will be looking to nail down their first Arizona titles.
Wins in Round Valley, would get the pair up and running.
Payson faces an old foe
Like the jaunt to the Round Valley Dome, the trip to Fountain Hills is a familiar one for veteran PHS athletes.
From 1996 to 1998, Payson and Fountain Hills competed in the now defunct Central Region and played one another in most all sports.
When the Central Region was disbanded, and Fountain Hills moved to the 4A conference, the regional rivalry between the two schools ceased.
But officials from the two schools decided to keep scheduling a bout between their respective basketball teams once a season.
The outcome of Tuesday's game won't affect the East Region race, but third-year coach Randy Wilcox would like nothing better than a game victory to help his team get off to a running start.
If Payson has a legitimate all-around star to take to Fountain Hills, it could be rapidly improving Mike Doss.
Wilcox said he and his assistant Greg Marrs have been impressed with Doss' abilities in preseason practices.
As a post player, he could give Payson the toughness and size down low the team has lacked in the past.
Along with Doss, the Horns sport another rugged inside player in senior Sterling White who can muscle inside with the best of prep players.
Lady Horns host FH
The season-opening clash against Fountain Hills will mark the senior debut of a teenager who has been a fixture on the team the past four years.
High-flying Reanna Martinez might be as good a player as the Lady Longhorns have ever put on the court. The 17-year-old senior has all the tools it takes for success.
First-year head coach Shaun Hardt said in preseason that part of his offensive philosophy will be to get the ball to Martinez and allow her to unleash her considerable talents.
When Martinez is not putting her hoop magic to work, a crew of solid veterans will be asked to contribute to the Longhorn cause.
Among them is Jennifer Plumb, probably the Lady Horns most prolific outside shooter, and versatile Brandi Waugh, who can play a variety of positions.
LeeAnn Owens contributes a rugged "never-say-die" attitude, in which she's more than willing to suffer scrapes and floor-burns diving for a loose ball.
Action in all three sports girls basketball, boys basketball and wrestling continues until late February when postseason play begins.