Coach Roger Wholly, in his second year at the helm of the Payson High boys soccer team, knows what it will take for the Longhorns to play much deeper into the state tournament than the first round it reached last season.
"More dedication and more commitment ... they have to be much more serious about making it at state," he said.
That's an ambitious goal for any prep team, but if Wholly's evaluations of team strength are correct, the team might have the firepower to make a run at the school's first 3A soccer championship.
"We are very much a veteran team," he said. "Most of these kids have played together for the past four years and there is no weak spot (in the lineup)."
About the only significant holes that the coach will have to fill on the roster are those created by the loss of Nick Sanders and Rob Jones to graduation last spring.
Sanders is now playing at Scottsdale Community College and Jones is a member of the Pima College team. Although both were all-region players, Wholly is optimistic he can replace both from a roster of 22 varsity hopefuls that will be soon be trimmed to 16.
Those not kept on the varsity will be reassigned to the junior varsity squad that is this year being coached by Wholly's wife, Kim.
Currently, 20 players are trying out for the jayvee team. Since only 36 players will be kept on both rosters, coaches will probably have to make roster cuts.
"Because of transportation and uniform problems, we have to do that," Wholly said.
In a crew of 14 returning letter winners, the trio of Travis Sanders, Mike Orosco and Danny Wing will form the nucleus of the varsity squad.
Sanders, a standout midfielder last season, was a second team all-region pick and an all-state honorable mention player. Wholly expects him to continue to hold down the midfield position.
Orosco, a forward who was second team all-region in 2001, will be moved this season to left wing, Wholly said.
As an honorable mention forward last season, Wing lends stability and experience to the program. He will remain at the forward position, Wholly said.
The big three of Sanders, Orosco and Wing should have plenty of talented company to help lead the Horns to the state's promised land.
Among the returning letter winners are Lucas Schmidt, Andrew Karlowski, Randy Perham, Ryan Fanizza, Josh Lammers, Harley Taylor, Kyle Hubbard, Trevor LaHaye and Daniel Reisdorf.
Newcomers battling for varsity playing slots include Patrick Karlowski, Will Gnai, Michael Fanizza, Ian Benney, Brett Hollobaugh, Mark Hillegas, Ryan Peters and Brian Etter.
Foreign exchange student Robert Gessler of Germany also is a candidate for the varsity team.
The big change for the Longhorns this new season might be the new playing facility at Rumsey Park.
The recently installed FieldTurf playing surface is about 20 yards longer than the field played on last season at north Rumsey.
"We definitely will have to have more endurance," Wholly said.
In an effort to ready his players for the new-sized field, Wholly has stressed the importance of good physical conditioning in preseason practices.
Prior to each daily practice session, team captains and coaches put the athletes through a series of running and skill-building drills.
Among those coaches stressing conditioning is first-year assistant Les Pritchard who brings to the program Division I experience having played at DePaul University. Pritchard will be assigned duties on both the jayvee and varsity level.
What's on tap
Wholly is hesitant about picking a Rim region favorite saying all the teams have a legitimate opportunity to win the title or at least earn a top-four finish and a berth in the state tournament.
Competing in the region this season along with the Horns will be Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Pinon, Holbrook, Round Valley and St. Johns.
Last season, the power in the region resided at BRHS in Lakeside but that could change, Wholly predicts.
The highlight of the regular season will be the Payson Invitational Sept. 27 and 28 at Rumsey Park. Currently, six teams have committed to participate and another two have been invited.
The regular season begins Sept. 6 and 7 and the Round Valley Invitational in Eager.
Postseason play begins Nov. 1 and 2.