Goals Set As Horns Begin Fall Practice


Monday's onset of Payson High School preseason fall sports practices had most coaches and athletes setting their sights on improving last year's performances.

The only team that can't attain that aspiration is the Lady Longhorn cross country team. That's because, last season it accomplished the ultimate by winning the state championship.

Although the football team turned in a respectable 6-5 record, coaches and players are looking to improve on its showing last year when it reached the Class 3A quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champion Blue Ridge.

Since last spring, coach Steve Saban has said he wants to lead the team into at least the final four and possibly the title game.

The boys and girls soccer teams are also both hoping to play deeper into the state tournament than they did in 2001.

Coach Roger Wholly's boys squad entered the 2001 state tournament as a fourth seed, but saw dreams of a state crown vanish in a 4-1 opening-round loss to Phoenix Country Day School.

The girl's soccer team, coached by Linda Gibson who has since stepped down, opened state tournament action in Tucson with a 3-1 triumph over St. Gregory's. In the second round, a 3-0 loss to Camp Verde eliminated the Lady Horns from postseason play.

One of the goals of newly appointed head coach Randy Wilcox is to muster the offense and defense to get past rugged Camp Verde.

For the Lady Longhorn volleyball team, reaching the state tournament will mean having to outplay the likes of last year's rivals, Blue Ridge and Show Low.

In a crucial season-ending clash last fall against BR, Payson opened the three-game match with a stirring 16-14 victory.

Just when it looked like the Lady Horns were going to improve on their fifth-place East region standings and earn a berth into the state tournament, the Yellow Jackets came roaring back with 15-4 and 15-8 triumphs.

The Lady Horns never recovered from that loss. The net squad's fifth-place regional finish wasn't good enough to earn Payson a state seed.

The boys cross country team appears to have the makings for greatly improving on last year when it came up five points short of winning the East regional championship.

At the conclusion of last season, coach Chuck Hardt predicted good things for his next team.

"With three sophomores and a junior (on the team), their best is ahead of them," he said.

What will it take?

Probably the team most rocked by graduation and family relocations is the girls cross country squad.

The most sorely missed from the state championship roster will be Whitney Hardt, Amy Davis, LeighAnne Haynes and Lily Flores.

This season, Hardt the defending state 3A individual champion will be competing for the Round Valley Elks. Her father, Shaun, recently accepted the head football coaching position at Round Valley High School and the family moved to Eagar.

Replacing the likes of Hardt, who is on target to someday become an Olympian, is a Herculean task.

Davis, Haynes and Flores, all seniors last fall, were solid runners who provided the depth Payson needed to win the state crown.

Although 14-year-old Kari Hardt, Whitney's younger sister, never ran a step for the Lady Longhorns, local fans were looking forward to the days when she would don a PHS uniform.

Last fall as a Rim Country Middle School eighth-grader, Kari, became one of the top runners in the state by winning the Arizona Middle School/Junior High championships in Phoenix. She also will be a member of the RV Elks team this year.

For the Lady Horn volleyball team to reach state, coach Chris Schwind must find the athletes to replace five who graduated last spring Jania Rodriquez, Brandi Waugh, Brooke McRae, Hanna Ludwig and Brittany Curtis.

Since a large contingent of prospective players turned out for practices on Monday, Schwind should have plenty of athletes to choose from.

On the girls soccer team, coach Wilcox will inherit a solid nucleus of returning starters with invaluable experience.

Among the returning veterans are Trista Carlton, Jenny Cohen, Megan Branstetter, Laura Crabtree and Amy Wilcox the coach's daughter.

The boys soccer game plan for the upcoming season will include finding replacements for Nick Sanders and Rob Jones who graduated last spring.

Last season, Sanders earned all-region honors as the Horns starting goalie. Jones garnered honorable-mention accolades.

According to Wholly, the take charge, do-or-die attitude that Jones brought to the team will be tough to replace.

The good news for the coach is that he has several talented players returning including Michael Orozco and Daniel Wing.

In boys cross country, coach Hardt will rely on the performances of returning letter-winners Dustin Rodgers, Brian Langeliers and Joe Behrens to lead the Horns to state glory.

Although Saban has a solid nucleus of football players returning to the Longhorn fold, he must also find replacements for Levi Armstrong, Levi Amon, Jeremy Greenburg, Sean Pickle and Ky Bradley. All graduated last spring.

Among the possible replacements Saban can call upon are Mike Barr, Waylon Pettet, Nate Perna and Jake Swartwood.

The next two weeks of practices will afford head coaches the opportunity to sort through their rosters and find the players necessary to lead their teams into the all-important state tournaments.

Plenty of factors will go into their decisions about the players including talent, physical condition, attitude, self-confidence, leadership and character.

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