In her second year as a varsity head coach, Chris Schwind faces the task of rebuilding nearly her entire Lady Longhorn volleyball team.
When preseason drills opened Aug 5, Schwind had just two veteran letter winners to provide the leadership and stability it takes to become an outstanding team in the 3A East region. Traditionally, young and untested teams struggle in the East where powerhouses like Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Round Valley call home.
The good news in Schwind's challenge of rebuilding the squad is that pair of returning varsity players have shown the potential to become two of the East's best.
Setter Shea Hatch and outside hitter Staci Scholl, both juniors, have been a part of the Payson volleyball program since their middle school days.
Hatch brings to the program the experience of having played internationally on an Arizona all-star team that toured Australia and New Zealand this summer.
If the Lady Horns are to finish among the East region's top four and earn a berth into the state tournament, Scholl and Hatch will have to provide much of the leadership and on-the-court firepower.
In addition to Hatch at the setter position, Schwind can call upon talented sophomore Haylee Huff and senior Katie Carpenter.
Schwind believes all three can handle the setting chores.
Setters are the heart of most any team, but strong front lines have also played a big part in past teams that have done well in East and state tournament play.
Anchoring the front line this season at the middle hitter positions could be junior Hillari Hardt and sophomore Britney Owens.
With more seasoning and the strength training that Schwind is stressing, both could mold themselves into strong hitters and blockers at the net.
The outside hitter positions also are important in Schwind's scheme. At her disposal, she has a trio of candidates anxious to join Scholl in the starting lineup. They include Teri Pete, Talania Pettet and Mekayla Marshall. While all three are seniors, neither has much playing experience.
Against Blue Ridge
The entire varsity roster of 10 players had the opportunity Sept. 3 to test their abilities against one of the best teams in the state.
In a preseason scrimmage in Wilson Dome against the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets, the Lady Horns started slowly, but improved as the game wore on.
"We had some mental errors with our serves, but we improved over the night," Schwind said.
Opening the season against a powerhouse expected to contend for the East title wasn't exactly what Schwind had in mind for her young charges.
"I was a little concerned opening against a team like Blue Ridge, but we did okay," she said.
In post-game assessments, Schwind indicated she was satisfied with the team's passing and defense, but was hoping for more from her offense.
"We have to learn to attack offensively," she said.
The Lady Horns opened the season last night in Higley. (Results not available at press time).
Originally, the non-region game Higley is a member of the 3A West Division was to be played in Higley. At the last moment, the game site was changed to Wilson Dome.
This season, the highlight for local fans will be the Payson Invitational, Sept 13 and 14. Each year since the tournament's inception, it has showcased some of the finest teams in the state, regardless of school size classification.
On the junior varsity front, coach Crystal Garvin has nine players on her roster. They include Megan Miles, Tina Jackson, Danielle Harrop, Retosha Marshall, Celena DeSchaaf, Talese Pettet and Whitney Heizer. Sophomore Rikki Ray is officially listed on both the jayvee and varsity rosters which indicates coaches will probably have her see action on both squads.
On coach Trevor Cleighton's freshmen team are Sierra Somers, Sara Donovan, Monique Heppler, Lacy Riggins, Ashley Anesin, Kayla Harrop, Nicole Brunson, Autumn Staszak, Chelsea Ewing, Danielle O'Haver and Jadyn Walden.
Freshman Hilary Armenta is expected to play on both the freshmen and jayvee teams.