When the final four of the state tournament is played today (Friday) at Udall Park in Tucson, one of showdowns will pit a pair of small-town neighbors against one another.
The 4 p.m. clash, which will be the second of the doublaceheader, showcases Payson High and long-rival aCamp Verde.
The schools, which are only 45 minutes time apart, will travel more than 250 miles to decide which is the better team.
That lengthy cross state jaunt can be attributed to Arizona Interscholastic Association regulations that deem the tournament must be played at a neutral site, and that location is Tucson.
The first state game, set to begin at 2 p.m. also at Udall Park, will send St. Johns against Sedona.
At stake for all four schools will be berths in the state championship showdown tomorrow (Saturday) at 2 p.m. at Udall Park.
Since preseason drills began at Payson Elementary School, a goal of the Lady Longhorn soccer team has been to earn PHS its first state soccer championship. To attain that goal, the team must muster two wins in Tucson.
That could be a tough order to fill since the Lady Horn roster has more recently resembled a MASH unit than a prep soccer line-up.
Prior to last Saturday's first round 3-1 victory over Tucson St. Gregory's, the Lady Horns had four starters sidelined. Amy Wilcox (asthma), Jana Knighton (knee injury), Jennifer Plumb (intestinal disorder) and Trista Carlton (broken foot) couldn't practice the week leading up to the state tournament.
In fact, Plumb was hospitalized twice once in Phoenix and another
time in Payson as doctors treated her.
Carlton was on crutches, Wilcox carried a vaccination kit in case her asthma flared up and Knighton struggled to walk.
In an effort to fill in the gaping holes, coach Linda Gibson called in reinforcements.
"We brought up Krista LaHaye, Jessica Coleman, Jami Davis and Ashley Geske from jayvee to help out the team and they worked hard," Gibson said.
By the time the state tournament opened at 2 p.m. Saturday in Tucson, all of the regular starters except Carlton were cleared to play. In fact, two of them Knighton and Plumb supplied all the offense Payson needed for the first round victory over St. Gregory's.
Knighton jump-started the team to a 1-0 lead midway through the first half when she scored on an indirect kick. Minutes later, Plumb upped the count to 2-0 by cashing in on a kick off a dribble that sailed left to right past the St. Gregory goalie.
Gregory came roaring back minutes later to close the Lady Horn cushion to 2-1. But Plumb put the game out of reach when she scored off Megan Branstetter's missed shot.
During the past practice week, the previously sidelined starters have once again not been at full strength. But three of them Wilcox, Knighton and Plumb are expected to play against Camp Verde.
Carlton's status depends on her receiving a doctor's release before the team departs for Tucson.
To have any chance at upsetting Camp Verde, the Horns need their starters in the lineup to shoulder the burdens of their specific assignments, Gibson said.
"In our system, each player contributes to the team equally," she said. "That makes us a great team."
Paired against the Cowboys, the Horns will be facing a team that entered the tournament as a one-seed, the West region champion and a favorite to win the state title.
Camp Verde also sports a 1-0 victory over Payson. That win was chalked up Oct. 6 in the championship finale of the Cowboy Invitational Tournament.
In addition to the Cowboys' long list of season-long accomplishments, the team flexed its muscle early in the state tournament by disposing of East four-seed Show Low 4-0.
Payson (14-5 overall, 8-2 in the East) qualified for state as a second seeded team from the East.
St. Johns claimed the East's No. 1 berth and the regional championship by defeating Payson 2-0 in an Oct. 17 regular season finale.