The Payson High School girls basketball team is gearing up for two of the toughest games of the season this weekend when they take on Round Valley and Show Low.
The Lady Longhorns hope to establish themselves as the team to beat as the 3A East looks toward the upcoming regional championships.
Currently tied with Snowflake for first place, Round Valley is perhaps the most significant challenge Payson faces this year. Earlier in the season, there was a three-way tie for first place between these same three teams, but a recent Longhorn loss to Snowflake dropped Payson into third position, while Round Valley has remained undefeated.
"I've been really proud of the girls all season," coach Shaun Hardt said. "They're tough and they just never give up."
Regardless of how the match against Round Valley turns out, the Lady Horns head back to battle Saturday night when they take on longtime rival Show Low.
Standout players to watch include Jennifer Plumb who has become a steady play-maker for the Horns. Her defense and ball handling skills have bolstered the Horns' effectiveness in breaking the toughest full court press.
Multi-talented Reanna Martinez has seen action at several positions during the same game. Her overall skills are something other 3A East teams have come to dread. Look for her to draw double and triple teams from Round Valley's defense.
Brandi Waugh also has stepped up her play this year. Her unselfish play-making skills and willingness to get in and mix it up with bigger players makes her an aggravating surprise for her opponents.
Samantha Ellsworth is yet another weapon in Payson's arsenal. With Martinez often drawing extra defensive pressure from opponents, Ellsworth has taken advantage of the opportunity.
If Payson currently 3-1 in East region play can capture both victories this weekend, they could jump them into a tie for first place again. Two losses would have the potential to leave them in fourth or even fifth position. With the end of the regular season just around the corner, both of these games are of paramount importance.
Game time Friday and Saturday nights are 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Wilson Dome and in the old gym. At press time, officials had not finalized the schedule or locations of the games.