Life 'A Piece Of Cake' For Girls Soccer Coach

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With the growing number of coaches who have thrown in the towel, it appears life as a head coach at Payson High School can be a test of futility.

But for at least one Longhorn coach Lady Horns soccer coach Linda Gibson those frustrations don't exist

"I think some of the other (coaches) might be little envious of me because I don't have the parent complaints and that other (stuff)," she said. "I just have a really good group of girls. It's a piece of cake."

Also, Gibson admits she's had to suffer through very little of parents and fans second-guessing her every move as other coaches have had to endure.

Since she first took over the girls soccer program four years ago, Gibson has managed to field competitive teams that play hard, behave off the field, have fun and post solid academic performances.

For their classroom achievements, the Lady Longhorn soccer team has been the recipient of the Arizona Interscholastic Association's Scholar-Athlete Team Award the past four seasons. The citation is presented annually to the team in each prep sport that maintains the highest cumulative grade-point average during its season of play.

When Gibson took over the program, small-town high school girls soccer play was a rag-tag affair in which athletic directors and coaches had to scour the state in search of pick-up games.

In the past few years, a region of play similar to the East that other PHS sports participate was formed and last year, an inaugural state tournament was held.

The Horns qualified for the state showdown but were eliminated in the first round by Sedona.

With 11 players from that team returning to the Horn fold, Gibson has the veterans to make a run at a second trip to state.

If those athletes continue to improve as the season wears on, the Lady Horns could play their way even deeper into the state tournament, Gibson predicts.

Returning letter winners are Laura Crabtree, Megan Branstetter, Shaina Vaught, Jana Knighton, Jenny Cohen, Trista Carlton, Brenna Zumbro, Amy Wilcox, Jennifer Plumb, Stacy Petry and LeeAnn Owens.

Among that crew, Plumb and Owens could be the leaders that every coach is searching the team roster for. Both are seniors and both have international playing experience, having traveled to Australia two years ago to participate on Gibson's Arizona all-star team.

In addition to the solid nucleus of seasoned athletes, 11 freshmen turned out for the opening day of practice Aug. 6.

The freshmen, Gibson said, are a talented group with solid all-around skills.

With 32 girls out for the team, the coach plans to keep 16 on varsity and relegate 16 to the jayvee squad.

During the first two weeks of practice, Gibson's coaching philosophy has been to develop skills and conditioning while scrimmaging and performing drills.

There has been little running simply for the sake of running, she said.

In preparing for the coming season, which will begin Aug. 29 at Rumsey Park against St. Johns, Gibson has had the team fine-tuning the 4-4-2 offense it has used since she took over.

The offense, she said, is not a secret weapon or quick way to victories, but rather one the players feel comfortable with.

Assistants Fred Holobaugh, Jason Schwind and Kendrick Frances are on hand to help Gibson this year.

Hollobaugh has been with the program three years.

Schwind and Frances are well known in local soccer circles, but both are in their first year assisting on the girls coaching staff.

Their presence has meant a great deal to Gibson.

"We can do a lot more with them out here," she said. "They are a big help."

In gearing up for the coming season, Gibson isn't sure which teams will be the ones to beat in the race for a regional title. Blue Ridge and Show Low, however, traditionally field good teams, she said.

Over the years, Blue Ridge and Payson have built a friendly rivalry that has usually resulted in spirited games.

"We always enjoy playing each other," Gibson said.

Chino Valley is another team that could make a run at post-season honors.

If the Horns can battle through this year's campaign to a top-four regional finish, the team would earn a seed into the first round of the playoffs Oct. 26 and 27 in Tucson. Wins there would propel the team into the final rounds Nov. 2 and 3, also in Tucson.

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