The biggest challenge facing the Longhorn golf team this season is to carry on the winning tradition built while Payson High was a member of the 3A East region.
Four out of the past five years, the Longhorns finished as state champion or state runner-up.
At the conclusion of last year's state silver-medal showing, coach Bret Morse praised the team for its consistent efforts.
"No other golf program can claim as good of recent record," he said. "We have begun on a strong tradition."
Now that Payson High has moved to the 4A conference, the Longhorns no longer will be battling the likes of Sedona, Snowflake, Safford and Globe for honors.
In the 4A Grand Canyon region, the Horns' foes will be Page, Mingus, Flagstaff, Coconino and Sinagua. Winning a Grand Canyon region title Oct. 29 and 30 at Chaparral Pines would propel the Longhorns into the state tournament where the squad would be pitted mostly against Tucson and Valley schools.
The coach will be the first to admit the change of scenery from the 3A to 4A conference will be a big challenge for his charges. But he said he's also looking forward to the milder fall weather the team will be playing in this season.
As a member of the 3A conference, where golf is played in the spring, the Longhorn players were often forced to don sweat shirts and knit caps to protect themselves from rain, cold and snow flurries.
The move to 4A also will allow Payson's top two threats, Billy Bob Hoyt and Brandan Kelley, the opportunity to see how they'll fare against players representing "big schools."
Last spring, Hoyt played his way to a third-place state finish, carding an even par 148 on the Queen Creek Johnson Ranch Course.
A varsity starter since he was a freshman, Hoyt has been a top-three state finisher all three of those years.
His goal this year, he says, is to be a state individual champion.
With several universities currently scouting him, including the University of Hawaii, a standout season would bolster Hoyt's bid for a full-ride golf scholarship.
Like Hoyt, Kelley is a three-year starter who sports the potential to play on the collegiate level.
Last spring, Kelley placed eighth at state tallying a 153.
The coach has praised Kelley in the past for playing very steady golf and showing good course management.
The added experience Hoyt and Kelley picked up during a full summer of PGA junior play should bode them well once the season tees off Sept. 1 at the Rim Club.
In the "play five, keep four" scoring format used in 4A prep golf, Morse's early season challenge has been to find at least three more solid players to go along with the Horns' one-two punch of Hoyt and Kelley.
In the mix for possible starting honors are several letter winners from last years team. Among them are Troy Marrs, Brad Meyocks, Tyler Danielson and Josh Rodriquez.
If Marrs can pick up from where he left off at last spring's state tournament, he could be the solid No. 3 player.
On the second day of last spring's 3A title battle, Marrs carded a 75 that allowed Payson to nail down the second-place finish over bronze medalists Fountain Hills and Globe.
Morse said Marrs' performance was his best tournament round ever.
On the first day of competition, Marrs turned in Payson's No. 4 score -- an 82.
Hoyt, Kelley and Marrs were named to the 2003 All-East Region golf team.
Meyocks, who was a part of the Longhorns' starting rotation last year as a freshman, returns to the Payson fold with added experience and maturity.
At the East regional tournament last season at Show Low and Silver Creek, Meyock's 85 on the first day kept Payson in the chase for the regional title. The Horns eventually claimed the region championship outdueling runner-up Show Low and third-place finisher Snowflake.
Rodriguez and Danielson saw some varsity playing time last season which should bolster their efforts to become varsity starters.
After opening the season Sept. 2, the Longhorns travel Sept. 5 and 6 to the 27-hole Yuma Kofa Invitational Tournament.
The Horns return to the Rim course for a dual meet Sept. 9.