Lady Longhorn senior setter Shea Hatch is eagerly anticipating the beginning of volleyball season.
"We have a lot of players back (from last year's team) and I know we are going to be good," she said. "We should be a lot better than last year."
Last season, a young Lady Horn squad struggled to a fifth-place 3A East region finish and failed to make the state tournament.
Hatch's optimism about the 2003 season is shared coach Chris Schwind.
"Varsity is extremely fortunate to have six returning players," she said. "We are fielding the most athletically talented team that I have coached during the past four years."
"If we were in 3A (East) we would be a top-two team," Schwind said. "But in 4A, I just don't know."
Due to increased student population, the Longhorns move from 3A to 4A this year.
The top dog in the 4A Grand Canyon region, of which the Longhorns will be a member, is defending state champion Flagstaff Coconino.
"We know they will be really good," Hatch said.
The coach also pegs Flagstaff High as one of the teams that will battle for regional honors.
The Lady Horns had the opportunity to preview a GC member, Flagstaff Sinagua, at a Tucson summer camp both teams participated in.
"We split our match with them," Schwind said.
At the net
The lineup that will buoy the Horns during their big-school debut will be anchored by veteran setters Haylee Huff and Hatch.
At the middle hitter positions, Schwind will call upon returning varsity letter winners Hillary Hardt and Britney Owens.
The outside hitter positions also sport two talented vets in Staci Scholl and Rikki Ray.
To provide varsity depth, Schwind has brought four players up from last year's JV squad: Whitney Heizer, Tina Jackson, Celena Deschaaf and Retosha Marshall.
Heizer and Jackson are back row specialists who will play the outside hitter positions. Deschaaf and Marshall are expected to hold down middle hitter slots. Setter Talese Pettet will play for both the junior varsity and varsity, Schwind said.
Newcomer Brenna Zumbro, a junior, also has earned a slot on the varsity roster. Although she hasn't played volleyball since she was in eighth grade, Zumbro is a good athlete as evidenced by her successes in fast-pitch softball.
"She is an outstanding athlete and worker," Schwind said. "We are working with her to update her skills and will determine later where she will be able to help us."
When preseason practices began Aug. 11, Schwind greeted a good-sized turnout of 43 prospective players. In the field of athletes, 18 were freshmen.
The opening week of practice was devoted to evaluating players and team tryouts. Because each PHS roster --arsity, JV and freshman --is limited to 10-12 athletes, players had to be cut.
With the rosters now trimmed to manageable sizes, sessions are focused on developing each of the three teams.
For the freshmen, Trevor Creighton will once again oversee the prep rookies.
Former Lady Longhorn volleyball standout Cassie (Fulp) Bradford is handling the junior varsity coaching responsibilities.
The Lady Horns will open the season at 6:30 p.m. Aug 29 in Lakeside against the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
After traveling to Glendale Independence Sept. 3, the team makes its home debut Sept. 3 in Wilson dome against Apache Junction. Game times are 4 p.m. (freshmen), 5 p.m. (junior varsity) and 6 p.m (varsity).