If there is a favorite in the Lady Longhorns' Holiday Hoops Basketball Tournament that tipped off at 10 a.m. today (Friday), it's Flagstaff Sinagua.
As one of the top-10 ranked teams in the Class 4A conference, Sinagua has the firepower to make a run at the championship when it is decided at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Wilson Dome.
Holiday Hoops tournament director Teddy Pettet says there are several other teams in the fray who could contend for the gold medal.
Among the projected powers are Round Valley, Tuba City and Gilbert.
Round Valley, Pettet said, will be much improved with the addition of former Lady Longhorn star Whitney Hardt in the Elks lineup.
Gilbert has long been a 5A power and Tuba City usually finds itself at season's end in the 3A state championship showdown.
Although the tournament showcases four teams who could be labeled favorites, Pettet contends the field is evenly matched up and a dark horse could rise up and vie for top honors.
Rough Rock, a northern Arizona reservation team, is an unknown who could bring a potent squad to the Rim country. Hopi is another team from the reservation who could surprise some foes.
Lady Horns eager for return
For coach Krystal Garvin's Lady Longhorns to be successful, the players will have to shake off the effects of a long lay-off.
The team last played Dec. 7 at the River Valley Tournament.
Games against Holbrook (Dec. 17) and Mogollon (Dec. 19) were canceled due to snow that covered the Rim country last week. School officials are reluctant to send buses over Rim roads when driving conditions are hazardous.
Going almost three full weeks without competition will mean the Lady Horns must work out offensive and defensive kinks before the PHS Express can hit on all cylinders.
Most of the early season, Garvin has preached the values of a strong defense including a 1-3-1 half-court press.
When Payson can press effectively and create turnovers, the team usually comes away with a win.
Last year, the team counted on a pair of prolific scorers, Brandi Waugh and Hardt, for most of the offense. Waugh has graduated and Hardt is now plying her wares at Round Valley.
Without the two, Payson has become a much more well-balanced team in which several players are capable of shouldering the scoring load.
Trista Carlton's 33-point performance in the River Valley Tournament was the squad's best single offensive showing of the young season.
Senior forward/center Ashli Herrera has also been a strong contributor to the Horn offense. Her high of 19 was scored Dec. 3 in a win over Fountain Hills.
Sophomore Kody Kepp churned out 17 points in a Mohave tournament win over Sedona.
In the backcourt, Haylee Huff, Autumn Herrera and Tanya Davis have been strong contributors both offensively and defensively.
Tournament games are slated to be played today and tomorrow in Wilson Dome, the old PHS gymnasium and Tonto Apache gym. Admission each day is $3 for students and $4 for adults.