For Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Chris Schwind, the recently concluded net campaign was an opportunity to lay a solid foundation for future teams.
“Even though our win-loss record did not reflect a successful season, I believe we were able to gain experience and knowledge of the game,” she said. “The experience gained this year and having six players return next year will lead to a more competitive season.”
The returning varsity letter winners next year include Shea Hatch, Staci Scholl, Hillari Hardt, Britney Owens, Haylee Huff and Rikki Ray. All played prominent roles for the Lady Longhorns last season. Junior Shea Hatch was a starting setter who played on an international team last summer in Australia. Scholl, also a junior, will return at the outside hitter position.
Hardt and Owens both played the middle hitter and blocker positions. With another year of maturity and experience, Schwind believes the duo should give the Lady Horns a strong presence up front. Hardt is a junior and Owens a sophomore.
Ray and Huff, both sophomores, are aggressive players who need only seasoning to become among the best in the region, Schwind said. Ray is an outside hitter and Huff holds down the setter position.
At a season-ending awards ceremony Wednesday, Schwind announced that East coaches recently named Owens to the all-region first team. Hatch and Hardt received honorable mention accolades.
Having a solid nucleus of returning veterans next year will be something new for Schwind. Last year, in her first season at the helm of the program, the team featured only two returning letter winners.
“We had a lot of young players,” Schwind said.
Due to the team’s youth and inexperience, the Lady Horn struggled to a fifth-place finish in the six-team East region.
But, by the end of the season, the team was vastly improved.
“We ended with good play, the girls played very well and never let up,” Schwind said.
A 2-0 loss to Snowflake in the first round of the regional tournament played in Wilson Dome ended the Lady Horns’ season. As a regional fifth-place finisher, Payson did not receive a berth in the state tournament.
The East’s four qualifiers had less than memorable stays in the state skirmish. Snowflake lost in the second round to eventual state champ Monument Valley. Blue Ridge was eliminated in the second round by Ganado and Show Low lost to Queen Creek in the opening round. Also, in the first round Round Valley was beaten by Chandler Seton.
Help on the way
The most successful team in the PHS volleyball program was coach Krystal Garvin’s junior varsity squad.
Several players from that squad are expected to challenge for varsity starting positions next year.
Among them are Retosha Marshall, Celena Deschaaf, Tina Jackson and Whitney Heizer.
Schwind predicts the four have the athletic ability to become topnotch varsity regulars.
Coach Trevor Creighton’s freshman team struggled most of the season against more seasoned East region competition.
“Most of the freshman had not played last year at the middle school, they came in with very little experience,” Schwind said.
Although the freshman were untested rookies struggling to learn the nuances of the game, Schwind lauded their work ethic.
“They continue to improve and work hard every game,” she said. “At the end of the season, they won some close games.”
Most of those first-year players will probably not be varsity candidates next season but could contribute on the junior varsity level.
The Lady Horns expected resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time. Next year, Payson High School will move up to Class 4A ranks from 3A where the school has resided the past two decades.
As a member of the 4A Grand Canyon region with Sinagua, Flagstaff, Coconino, Page, Chinle and Mingus, the Lady Horns will face even tougher competition than they battled in the 3A region.
Next school year, Coconino will put on the court a defending state championship team that is projected to make a run at back-to-back titles.