by Max Foster
roundup staff reporter
When fall sports practices kick off Monday at Payson High School, the coaching staff will be a mixture of new faces and wiley veterans.
The seasoned vets are cross country coach Chuck Hardt and girls soccer coach Linda Gibson. The new faces are Roger Wholly (boys soccer), Steve Saban (football) and Chris Schwind (girls volleyball).
Hardt has been coaching in the Payson School District for about as long as anyone can remember 25 years to be exact.
He began coaching basketball and football, but today all of his attention is focused on the cross country and track and field teams.
Last year, Hardt who helped found the school's cross country program led the Lady Horns to a second-place state finish.
Throughout the record-setting campaign, the team consistently out-dueled some of the state's best teams, many of which came from Class 4A and 5A schools. The state silver medal represented the best showing ever turned in by a PHS cross country team. Next year, the girls cross country team is expected to once again become a state-championship contender.
During his tenure at PHS, Hardt has won just about every coach-of-the-year award doled out by the East region and 3A conference.
In Gibson, Payson High School has another leader who has earned coach-of-the-year laurels.
At the conclusion of last season, coaches voted to name Gibson top coach of the region for leading the Lady Horns to the team's best season ever.
In addition to nailing down coaching honors, Gibson was chosen a year ago to travel to Australia to coach an Arizona all-star soccer team in an international tournament. Five PHS players were on the all-star team. Gibson returned from the trip saying the experience was a highlight of her career.
In addition to her stint at PHS, Gibson coached at Grand Canyon High School and played on the Northern Arizona University squad during her collegiate years.
In taking over the reins of the volleyball program from Sue Weems, who resigned at the conclusion of last season, Schwind will have only two returning varsity players to call upon for leadership.
Due to the lack of seasoned players, she has labeled the coming campaign "a transition year" during which she hopes to build teamwork, sportsmanship and character.
In an effort to build a strong foundation for future teams, Schwind hosted a youth camp last summer that drew aspiring players ranging in age from 9 to 13.
Most recently, she took a contingent of 16 high school girls to Bullhead City, where they participated in a week-long team camp.
Schwind brings to the net program plenty of experience, having played volleyball in high school and while a student at North Idaho College.
After graduation, she served as an assistant coach at the school.
Although he's a rookie head coach, Wholly is no stranger to boys soccer, having helped establish the team eight years ago.
Upon its inception, co-founder Alfonzo Munoz assumed the varsity coaching duties and Wholly manned the jayvee slot. After two years, Wholly departed the prep scene, but continued to coach at the youth level, taking several local squads to the Grand Canyon State Games in Phoenix.
After being appointed the new coach to replace Byron Quinlan, Wholly said he has "a good vision for the team."
His goals include discipline and proper conditioning so that each season the team will contend for the Class 3A state championship.
"If the players' intentions are not to become champs, they shouldn't be on the field," he said.
With 30-year-old Saban at the helm of the Longhorn football program, the school sports a newcomer to the rugged East gridiron scene.
Prior to arriving in Payson July 1, Saban coached for three seasons at San Carlos High School. During his first year at the school, he served as an assistant coach. A season later, he was appointed head coach of a team that had lost 88 consecutive games.
Last season, Saban finally led San Carlos from the doldrums with a 38-30 victory over Superior. Although victories were almost nonexistent in San Carlos, Saban says his teams accomplished a lot under adverse conditions.
In an effort to get his first Horn squad off on the right cleats, Saban and his staff hosted a pre-season football camp this week.
More than 50 prep hopefuls, including freshmen, participated in the three-hour-long evening sessions.
The camp could be the key to success since there will be no two-a-day training sessions this year. The early school year start, which begins Monday, means the traditional and oh-so-important two-a-days could not be held.
After replacing former coach Mike Wheelis, who resigned after one year at the helm of the program, Saban retained Bret Morse and Jack Morris from the former coaching staff.
Both bring considerable coaching experience to the program and could prove invaluable in helping the new coach lead his team against the Beasts of the East.
Also, Saban picked up long-time local youth coach Jimbo Armstrong to coach the jayvee and varsity offensive and defensive line. The fall sports seasons kick off in earnest Sept. 1 and continue until the first week of November, when regional and state playoffs begin.