Officially, no score was recorded when Payson and Chino Valley high schools collided Nov. 21 in a preseason scrimmage. Because the scrimmages are for exhibition purposes only, Arizona Interscholastic Association regulations prohibit keeping score.
Unofficially, however, the Longhorns were able to put more points on the board than CV.
Out-pointing Chino was no small feat, because it was accomplished without the services of two standout PHS players.
Center/forward Mike Barr will not play this season due to a knee injury suffered in football. Waylon Pettet has been dismissed from the squad for an infraction of school and team rules.
“We lost two All-East players, that is definitely going to hurt us,” coach Mike Loutzenheiser said.
Both were active in the summer basketball program and were expected to be two of the better players in the East Region this season.
With the pair out of the lineup in Chino Valley, the Longhorns had to rely on seniors Nick Cassuto, Derek Daniels, Chris Donaldson and Jake Swartwood for both offense and defense.
“The seniors played a great game,” Loutzenheiser said.
Individually, the coach praised Nick Cassuto a returning letter winner for his all-around floor play. “He played a great game,” the coach said. “We will really count on him this year for scoring and rebounding.”
Alongside Cassuto on the front line this season will probably be Donaldson and Swartwood. Both were members of last year’s varsity team. Derek Daniels is expected to get the start at point guard and Kyle Hubbard will hold down the shooting guard or “two” spot in Loutzenheiser’s offense.
Last season, Daniels earned All-East honorable mention laurels.
Although the starting lineup appears in place, Loutzenheiser has had to call for help from the junior varsity team.
“We have only nine players on varsity, so I had to pull up Wellington Cassuto,” he said.
The two players Loutzenheiser expects to contribute most off the bench are seniors Nate Acord and Nate Perna.
“Those two will help us most, but all my reserves are going to get minutes,” he said.
Additional roster help could arrive in about three weeks when Trevor LaHaye returns to the team. He’s been sidelined most of the preseason with a fractured leg.
Last minute changes
In preparing for this season, a part of Loutzenheiser’s game plan was to pound the ball into Barr at the low-post position. There, Barr could maneuver his 6-foot, 7-inch, 215-pound body into position for easy shots.
Without him, Loutzenheiser has had to change his game plan.
“The loss of Barr leaves us kind of small, so we will try and push the ball a little more this year,” he said.
Although the Longhorns will look for the fast break when it’s there, don’t expect them to turn into a run-and-gun team similar to what the northern Arizona reservation schools produce.
Defensively, Loutzenheiser will continue to press only when the situation calls for it.
“We will play hard-nosed man-to-man,” he said. “We switch on all picks and try to play an aggressive, physical game.”
The loss of Pettet probably hurt the Longhorns most on the defensive end. Last season, he continually drew the opponent’s most prolific scorer and usually did a good job of defending the sharpshooters.
Loutzenheiser has pointed out that the keys to any success the team experiences this season rest on the shoulders of the three captains Swartwood, Cassuto and Daniels.
“They will be counted on to score more and keep the team together,” Loutzenheiser said.
The loss of Barr and Pettet was a huge blow to the team, but it hasn’t dampened Loutzenheiser’s enthusiasm.
“I believe we still have enough talent and enough senior leadership to make it to the state tournament,” he said.
The coach also is promising that the team will be fueled by a strong work ethic.
“I guarantee one thing we will not get out-worked all year,” he said. “These kids will come to play every night. There is a lot of heart in them.”
Win or lose, Loutzenheiser added, “we will have given it everything we have.”
The Horns will be in action at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 in Fountain Hills. The varsity game will be preceded by a freshmen clash at 4 p.m. and a jayvee game at 7 p.m.
Dec. 7, the Horns host Camp Verde in Wilson Dome. Game times are 6 p.m. (jayvee) and 7 p.m. (varsity).