The best 24 boys and girls soccer teams in Arizona gather at Tucson Udall Park today (Friday) and Saturday to begin pursuit of every high school athletes dream a state championship.
Both Payson High School soccer teams will be in that elite field.
Coach Randy Wilcox's Lady Horns earned a berth in the state tournament by virtue of a first-place Rim region tie
with the St. Johns Redskins. Both teams wrapped up the regular season with identical 6-1 records and were declared region co-champions. A coin flip was then held to determine which team would advance to state with the No. 1 seed. St. Johns won the toss and will take the top berth to Tucson. Payson advances as a No. 2 seed and will play at 2 p.m. against the Desert Region's third seed Chino Valley.
Coach Roger Wholly's Longhorns compiled a 7-1 Rim record (16-3-1 overall) to tie with Show Low and Blue Ridge for the region championship.
Athletic directors from the three schools held a coin flip to determine state seeding. Show Low won the toss and will take the first seed to state. Blue Ridge advances as runner-up and Payson fell to the third seed.
The Horns open the state match at 6 p.m. today against the Desert region's third-place finisher, Lourdes Catholic.
By Saturday evening, the first two rounds of the state tournament will be completed. The final four survivors in both the boys and girls bracket return to Udall Park Nov. 8 for the semifinal round. Championship games will be played the following day.
Horns goal a state title
The Longhorns will take to Tucson one of the most explosive scorers in the history of the Payson High School program.
Travis Sanders wrapped up the regular season as Payson's leading scorer with 24 goals. In addition to being a prolific scorer, he's been a leading playmaker with 10 assists.
During the course of the campaign, Sanders chalked up three hat tricks. Darryl LeSueur, Ryan Peters, Ryan Fanizza and Trevor LaHaye have also proven to be offensive stalwarts.
In addition to sporting a potent offense, the Longhorns field a strong defense led by Mark Hillegas, Andrew Karlowski, Will Gnagi, Daniel Reisdorf and freshman Patrick Karlowski.
With a strong supporting crew led by Harley Taylor and Derek Wimpee, depth should not be a problem for the Longhorns.
Lady Horns primed for team effort
"Someone is going to be state champions," Wilcox told the team this week.
Why not Payson?
Most agreed that the team has the potential to nail down Payson High's first state soccer championship.
But for the Lady Horns to earn the crown, the entire roster will have to play as a single unit.
"There is not room for individuality," Wilcox said.
In Tucson, the Lady Horns could be without the services of senior forward Megan Branstetter who is suffering from a sprained ankle. Wilcox said her status was day to day.
The Lady Horns will, however, have a battle-tested crew led by junior striker Amy Wilcox and sophomore midfielder Kelsea Palace. Amy Wilcox leads the team in goals (11) for the second consecutive year. Palace, who plays an attacking style of offense, has scored five goals.
Defensively the Lady Horns are led by sweeper Trista Carlton and stopper Laura Crabtree. Both are seniors. Junior Jenny Cohen has proven to be a stellar defensive midfielder.