Coach Shawn Hardt finds a lot to like about the current edition of the Lady Longhorn basketball team.
"They have good chemistry, good attitudes and are a lot of fun to coach," he said after watching his players showcase their skills in a scrimmage held Thursday in Wilson Dome against Chino Valley.
Despite the fact the team struggled on the boards and at times were frustrated by Chino's full-court pressure, the second year-coach lauded the players for their hard-nosed play.
"We were killed on the boards and we'll work on that, but this is a scrappy bunch that will learn (to rebound) and break the press" he said.
Arizona Interscholastic Association regulations dictate no official score may be kept in preseason scrimmages and the scoreboard in Wilson Dome was turned off. However, after a slow start the Lady Horns traded baskets with Chino in a contest that seemed to end in a toss up.
During the fray, the team was noticeably without the services of last year's leading scorer and rebounder Reanna Martinez. The former all-stater graduated from PHS last spring and is now plying her wares for the Arizona State University track and field team.
Also lost from last year's team to graduation was April Cheek.
Because some veterans are not on the team for a variety of reasons, Hardt said the current squad is "very inexperienced and a little slim on numbers but well worth coming to watch."
Among the candidates for varsity starting honors is the coach's daughter Whitney Hardt.
Fresh off a cross country season in which she ran her way to the state championship, Hardt is a scrappy point guard who during the CV scrimmage was not hesitant to pick up a few floor burns diving for loose balls.
Coach Hardt has never been one to show his daughters any favoritism, but Whitney's effort against CV makes her a top gun in the Horn arsenal.
Whitney is talented, but there are a number of other players on the team who can scoop up the ball and run with it.
Among the veterans in the crew are Brandi Waugh, Trista Carlton and Ashley Herrera.
The coach expects Waugh to man a forward position and Carlton to play center. Hererra will split her time between forward and center.
Because, the trio survived the rigors of East region warfare last season, they should be better prepared this year.
Other athletes the coach is expecting good things from include Shay McGee, Brooke McRae, Hailee Huff, Misty Roberston, Laura Crabtree and Shelly Closs.
In that crew, McRae a softball standout for the Lady Horns has the size and potential to bolster the Lady Horns' interior defense and rebounding.
McGee, Crabtree, Robertson are penciled in the lineup at forward. Huff and Closs are projected to play guard.
Another player who could help the Horns could only watch the CV scrimmage from the sidelines. It is unknown when, and if, Amy Wilcox daughter of former PHS boys basketball coach Randy Wilcox will be available to play.
A longtime sufferer of asthma, Wilcox had one of her most severe attacks during the recently concluded prep soccer season.
Whatever lineup coach Hardt puts on the floor, the players will be asked to execute his brand of tenacious offensive and defensive schemes.
On offense, the team will look first to the fast break and try to take advantage of easy baskets off layups.
When the offense pulls up at half-court, it will go into a wheel scheme that involves cutting and motion without the ball.
When executed effectively, the offense produces successful back door baskets, driving layups and short jumpers.
Defensively, the Horns will call upon a match-up zone that has been used so efficiently by Lute Olson at the University of Arizona.
Although it's a zone, the defense incorporates many man-to-man principles.
The coach also anticipates his team will press both three-fourth and full court in an effort to create turnovers and frustrate the opposition.
Because Hardt had to wait for some of his players to turn out for the team after a lengthy cross country and soccer season, he says the squad has not rounded into preseason shape.
"We got off to a slow start and need to spend time now working on fundamentals, conditioning and learning (schemes and philosophies)," he said.
Down the road
Once the 2001-2002 season opens Nov. 20 in Winslow, the Lady Horns will face an ambitious schedule that includes a pair of tough tournaments.
The first on the agenda will be the 16-team River Valley Invitational that will draw schools from California, Nevada and Arizona.
For the Payson players, the tournament Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1 near Kingman represents the opportunity to depart the school and community where they can begin to develop a sense of camaraderie.
"That's what I really like about (the tournament)," Hardt said. "It allows us to get away and the girls to be together for a few days."
The tournament also affords the Horns the chance to see some of the 3A conference's South and West region teams that they might not confront during the course of the regular season.
Next on the agenda is the Payson Holiday Invitational Tournament to be played Dec. 27 and 28 in Wilson Dome and the old high school gymnasium.
This year, PHS baseball coach and Town Recreation Coordinator Teddy Pettet will serve as tournament director.
Defending state champion Tuba City is slated to participate in the Rim showdown, as well as schools from Phoenix and Tucson.
Once the East season begins in early January, the coach projects Round Valley will be the favorite to win the regional championship.
"I believe that because they had such a strong summer," he said. "They played a lot of games and got girls ready (for this season's play."
The coach also predicts that Snowflake and Alchesay could be in the hunt for regional honors.
The Lady Horns won't make their home debut until Dec. 18 when Camp Verde visits Wilson Dome for jayvee (7:30 p.m.) and varsity (6 p.m. games).
This season, the freshman team will be coached by Payson High School PE instructor Peggy Miles. In preseason, she has been assisted by former Lady Horn coach Tim Fruth. On the junior varsity level, coach Rory Huff has a roster of 10 athletes prepared to take on all comers.
Terry Klein, a 27-year coaching veteran in Iowa high school basketball, will assist Hardt.