After a year of seasoning on the freshman volleyball level, Chris Schwind is set to take over the Lady Longhorn varsity squad.
Last spring, Schwind who works as a secretary at Payson Elementary School was appointed the program's head coach, replacing Sue Weems. Weems resigned after two years at the head of the volleyball program.
With the onset of Schwind's rookie season only one week away, she said she is primed and ready to lead her charges into the rigors of brutal East region play.
Although the team opens with non-regional action against Higley (Aug. 28), Fountain Hills (Aug. 30) and Winslow (Sept. 5), Schwind said she probably won't learn how her team will fare against regional foes until the Payson Invitational Tournament Sept. 7 and 8.
Among the 18 teams that will be participating in the tournament will be all of the East teams including perennial powerhouse Snowflake and always tough Ganado. Schwind said she predicts Safford and Wickenburg both could make a run at the tournament title.
If the Lady Longhorns can hang tough against the topnotch teams in the invitational, it will be a good indication the team can play on even terms against the likes of Show Low, Round Valley, Snowflake and Blue Ridge.
In the Payson tournament format, the teams will play all of the first day in three pools of six schools each.
The following day, the top three teams from each pool will battle for gold-medal honors in a double elimination championship bracket.
The bottom three teams in each pool play Saturday in a consolation bracket tournament.
One of the toughest coaching decisions of Schwind's short career, she said, was having to cut seven players from the program.
Almost 40 prospective players turned out for the opening of practices Aug. 6, which was too many for the three Payson High teams.
With the roster cuts last week, there are now eight players on the varsity team and 11 on the jayvee team. An even dozen fledgling netters make up the freshman team.
Three returning letter winners are on the varsity contingent Brandi Waugh, Hanna Ludwig and Rachel Ray. The three will be counted on to bring to the team experience and court savvy.
Waugh and Ludwig, both seniors, will play outside hitter positions. Ray, a junior, will man the setter slot.
Others on the varsity roster are Brittany Curtis, Brooke McRae, Shea Hatch, Staci Scholl and Jinia Rodriguez.
Schwind has penciled in Curtis as an all-around player who can hold down several positions. McRae is a middle hitter who, Schwind said, is real strong at the net.
Hatch is expected to man a setter slot and Scholl, one of several positions.
"Staci is very versatile," the coach said.
Rodriguez, a recent transfer from Prescott Bradshaw Mountain, is being counted on to play middle hitter.
The newcomer, Schwind said, "is well disciplined, well coached" and could be a big asset to the program.
After two full weeks of preseason training, the new coach is impressed with her new charges.
"They have great attitudes and work hard," she said. "They also seem to be good friends with one another, which helps."
Although the team won't feature great size at the net, the Lady Horns will have decent height with Rodriguez (5 feet, 9 inches) and McRae (5 feet, 10 inches) in the lineup.
"We are not real big, but were not a short team either," Schwind said.
The new coach is quick to point out another team strength will be overall team depth. That asset gives her the option of rotating players into the game at will.
"When we substitute, it should go evenly," the coach said. "Even now I don't know who the starters will be."
This year's team will feature a 6-2 offensive look that has three hitters on the front row and a pair of setters coming from the back.
The offensive set, Schwind said, is probably the best for the mix of players she has on the Horn roster.
Assistant coaches Crystal Garvin and Trevor Creighton were on hand to help Schwind get the program off and running. During the coming campaign, Garvin will head the jayvee team and Creighton, the freshmen.
In most regular season games, the freshmen are slated to play at 4:30 p.m., the jayvees at 5:30 p.m. and the varsity at 6:30 p.m.