Lady Longhorns To Reflect On Roller-Coaster Season At Annual Awards Banquet

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At Thursday's awards ceremony, players, parents, fans and coaches will commemorate a basketball season that saw the Lady Longhorns finish 20-10 and earn the right to advance to the state tournament where they lost in the first round of action.

Set to begin at 6:30 p.m. in Payson Elementary School cafeteria, the annual ceremony will also mark the final time PHS's lone senior, Reanna Martinez, gathers with her teammates.

Since early in her freshman season when she was first tapped to the varsity team, Martinez has been a vital cog in the Lady Horn hardwood attack.

The highlight of Thursday evening could be the official naming of the PHS players chosen to the All-East region team. Those athletes are selected at season's end by a voting of coaches.

Martinez, who finished as the team's leading scorer and rebounder, is a good bet to make the all-star team. Several other players also are in the running for the celestial squad, but face tough competition from representatives of East champion Round Valley and regional bronze-medalist Snowflake.

During regular season warfare, the Lady Horns compiled a 10-4 East region record to finish third behind Round Valley and runner-up Snowflake. In Eager Jan. 20, the Lady Horns proved they were almost the equal of powerful RV by taking the Elks into overtime before losing a 79-77 heartbreaker.

Also during the season, the Lady Horns played their way to a third-place showing at the Payson-hosted Holiday Hoops tournament and a fourth-place finish at the River Valley tournament.

During the up-and-down campaign, some of the toughest defeats for the Lady Horns to absorb were two gut-wrenching losses to longtime rival Snowflake.

As the East's regular season third-place finisher, the Lady Horns received a bye in the first round of the regional tournament.

In second-round action in Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns disposed of a determined Show Low team, 52-45, to earn the right to participate in the final four held in Show Low.

In Cougar-land Feb. 9, Payson pulled off the upset of the season by whipping favored Snowflake 55-51.

The win propelled the Lady Horns into the championship fray against a talented Round Valley team that had steamrolled into the gold-medal round under the leadership of coach Chris Matthews.

As gritty as the Lady Horns proved to be during the tournament, the team couldn't pull off back-to-back upsets. After losing to Round Valley 73-60, the Lady Horns advanced to state as the East's second seeded team.

Playing in the first round on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff against North-three seed Ganado, the Lady Horns hopes of a first-ever berth in the state's final four were erased in a 51-33 loss to the Hornets.

First-year coach Shaun Hardt admits the opening round defeat was hard for him, and for his players, to absorb, but the loss could turn into a learning experience for the young athletes.

In the next few weeks, Hardt intends to detail an off-season program that, he says, will help the team play on the same level as the powerful North teams that dominated the state tournament.

"I'm proud of the way we played, but I don't think we peaked," he said. "There are some things we can do that will help us do that next year, but it will be a lot of work."

As the East Region's reigning "Coach of the Year," Hardt will face a huge task in replacing Martinez but will have a strong supporting cast of younger players to fill the void.

Among the varsity returners Hardt can built on are Brandi Waugh, Trista Carlton, Ashli Herrera, Jennifer Plumb, LeeAnn Owens, April Cheek, Whitney Hardt, and Amy Wilcox.

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