Roster depth could be one of the keys to the Longhorn golf team repeating as state champions, coach Brett Morse said.
From last year's 3A title team, the Horns return two of the most promising young golfers in the state sophomores Brandon Kelley and Billy Bob Hoyt.
But for the Horns to claim a second successive title, Payson will need other team members to step up and fill the three, four and five spots on the varsity roster.
Among those currently battling for those all-important positions are Kyle Kent, Jeff Higgins, John McDermott and Stephanie Marrs.
In that crew, Kent and Higgins picked up valuable experience as part-time starters on last year's varsity team.
McDermott played for the Longhorns two years ago as a freshman but moved the following season to New Mexico. He has since returned to Payson and is battling to earn a varsity position.
Marrs, a senior, has been a member of the PHS golf program since she was a freshman. In off-season junior golf play, she's worked to acquire the skills and experience necessary to become a varsity regular.
During regular season meets, Morse plans to give all four athletes varsity playing time so he can evaluate each one's effectiveness.
When crunch time of postseason play rolls around, he'll plug the players into the lineup who have proved they can help lead the Longhorns to the state promise land.
The Horn's state championship cause received a huge blow last summer when Tyler Scrum and his family moved from Payson to Jackson Hole, Wyo.
After helping the Longhorns to the state championship last spring, Scrum was expected to become an even better player this season. Also, with him in the Horn fold, the team would have had a solid nucleus of three veterans.
The Horns also lost 2001 state gold-medalist Tyson McKee who graduated last spring.
After watching the Longhorns hone their skills in preseason, Morse is predicting the team will be competitive, but he stops short of saying the Horns will be a title contender.
A second crown, he said, hinges on whether the three, four and five roster players develop into solid contributors.
The coach is also predicting that for the Horns to repeat as East region champions, Payson must find a way to outplay the Snowflake Lobos.
"They return their top three (players) from last year, so we know they'll be good," he said.
In state circles, Fountain Hills is the team to beat.
"They have five of their top six (players) back," Morse said.
Others the coach predicts will be top-notch clubs are Sedona, Safford and Chandler Seton.
A huge plus for the current edition of the Longhorns is having the Rim Club and Chaparral Pines as home courses. Both are considered among the most challenging in the state.
After practicing on the two, "there isn't a course we go to that intimidates us," Morse said.
The highlights of the regular season will be a 36-hole tournament April 12 and 13 at Snowflake and Silver Creek as well as the 27-hole Safford Invitational April 19 and 20 at Mount Graham golf course.
The Horns make their home debut March 11 at Chaparral Pines against Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge. Tee time for the nine-hole shoot-out is 2 p.m.
This year, the regional championships will be April 26 and 27 at Snowflake. The state tournament is May 6 and 7 at Los Caballeros near Wickenburg.
On the jayvee level, Denny Morse Bret's father is heading up a five-member team that will play a full slate of games.