For Lady Longhorn basketball coach Shaun Hardt, Saturday evening's unexpected drenching in a hotel swimming pool was all a part of his team's victory celebration.
The tournament triumph that created the splash down, was chalked up at the Pepsi Cola River Valley Shoot Out held near Laughlin, Nev.
In the championship finale of the three-day, 16-team tournament, Hardt's charges claimed the hard earned title by running roughshod over Prescott Bradshaw Mountain 52-32.
Following the win, the team continued a post game celebration at the Riverside Hotel in Laughlin the Horns' home during the tournament where the PHS players conspired to give their coach a good-natured dunking.
After a bit of jostling, Hardt found himself in the pool and later while dripping wet shuffling through the jam-packed casino searching for his hotel room where he could find dry clothing.
"That was the embarrassing part, going through the casino ... slosh, slosh, slosh I walked and people were looking at me as if I was crazy," he said.
Horns a River Valley surprise
The team's victory party in Laughlin was set up by a tournament showing few expected.
Prior to the tournament, Payson assumed the role of underdog mostly because the Shoot Out drew powerful Arizona reservation teams, several of the state's 4A schools and teams from California and Nevada.
But refusing to be denied by their lowly status, the team put on a showing of true grit that rivaled the one that the Arizona Cardinals turned in during Sunday's stunning win over the highly favored Oakland Raiders.
Following the Horns' return to Payson late Sunday, an elated Hardt admitted he was still pumped up by the victory.
"It was incredible, everyone played about as (well) as they can this early in the year," he said.
The coach also lauded the bench for unbridled support of their teammates.
"Especially when we were on defense ... they (the reserves) were making up cheers, they were loud and had a lot to do with it (the victory)," he said.
The four wins
The Lady Horns opened the tournament Thursday afternoon at River Valley High School with a 48-41 win over Class 4A Lake Havasu.
After doubling the score, 20-10, on Havasu late in the first quarter, the Lady Horns suffered through a second stanza scoring drought. Their 23-19 halftime lead was precarious at best.
Payson upped the lead to 40-25 early in the fourth quarter but then had to withstand a furious Havasu comeback to escape with the victory.
Trista Carlton, who started at center, led the Horns in scoring with 14 points. Ashli Herrera tallied 10 and Whitney Hardt, the coach's daughter, had nine.
Brandi Waugh who Coach Hardt cited after the tournament for her leadership chipped in with eight.
The victory over Havasu propelled Payson into a second-round clash against a run-and-gun Hopi team which the Lady Horns eventually bested by a score of 56-45.
As expected, Hopi launched three-point balls from about every place except the school parking lot. But Payson's solid 1-2-2 matchup zone defense held the bombers to just five successful long-range shots.
While the Payson defense was shining, Herrera was heating up the nets for a game-high 17 points. Growing frustrated with Herrera's two-point baskets from down low, Hopi turned to a fouling game.
The Lady Longhorn forward responded by sinking seven-of-10 charity shots.
Sporting a 2-0 tournament record, the Lady Horns returned to the court Saturday morning to take on host team, River Valley which had been projected to be a tournament title threat.
Behind Whitney Hardt's 25 points, the Horns edged RV 60-55.
Whitney's career-high salvo included a trio of three-point shots and six-for-eight at the free-throw line.
Carlton finished with 14 points, Waugh had nine and Laura Crabtree tallied six.
Crabtree's tournament-long hustle style of play drew praise from the coach.
"She just gave it all she had. What more can you say about an effort like that," he asked.
The win allowed the Lady Horns an afternoon of rest before they returned to the court Saturday evening to take on Bradshaw Mountain in the gold medal show down.
After a hard fought first quarter in which Bradshaw led 13-12, the outcome of the game turned in Payson's favor.
During a second quarter stint, the Horns outscored BM 17-2 to assume a 29-15 halftime lead.
During second-half play, the Lady Horns exchanged baskets with Bradshaw, refusing to give up a lead the team had built earlier.
Waugh shouldered the scoring load with 16 points. Whitney had 12 and freshman Haylee Huff contributed six.
Herrera, Crabtree and Carlton all tallied four.
With the tournament championship in their resume, the Lady Horns sport 5-1 credentials. But, it's early in the season and the team has yet to test all-important regional waters. The Horns won't dive into East play until Jan. 11 when they travel to Snowflake to take on the Lobos. Tip off is 7 p.m.
From that game until the end of the regular season, it's do or die for the Lady Horns state tournament aspirations they'll be locked into two East games each week.
The Horns have the opportunity to tune up for East battles in a nonregional clash Tuesday (Dec. 11) in Holbrook. Game times are 4:30 (frosh), 6 (jayvee) and 7 p.m. (varsity).
Last season, Holbrook was a member of the East but petitioned the Arizona Interscholastic Association to move to the North. That request was granted last spring, leaving the East the smallest region (six teams) in the 3A conference.