In Rory Huff's first year at the helm of the Lady Longhorn basketball program, he has the team off to an impressive 8-2 start.
With one game remaining (Dec. 19 in Apache Junction) before the Payson Holiday Hoops Invitational tips off Dec. 29 and 30, the Horns should be one of the favorites to contend for the home town tournament title that has always managed to elude a Payson team.
But, before Lady Horn fans begin clamoring for a crown, Huff is issuing words of caution.
"Of the 16-teams in the tournament, there were some highly ranked schools," he said. "Flagstaff Sinagua and Tuba City could be two of the best."
If the Lady Horns turn up the heat in the holiday skirmish as the squad did in the wins over Pinnacle, 60-36, and Prescott, 53-22, Payson players could soon be clutching a championship trophy.
In whipping home-standing Pinnacle Dec. 12, the Lady Horns broke open a close game in the second half by outscoring Pinnacle 37-18. At halftime, Payson led only 23-18.
Much of the credit for the offensive prowess could be attributed to the one-two scoring punch of Autumn Herrera and Kody Kepp.
Herrera, a stalwart on last year's team finished with a game high 13 points. Kepp, an inside player who is just beginning to make her presence known on varsity, tallied 11. Point guard Haylee Huff chipped in with eight points and rapidly improving sophomore Tracy Fitzpatrick tallied five. Britney Owens and Kendra Francis also had nine.
According to Huff, Francis -- a mostly untested first year varsity player -- earned herself more playing time by turning in a solid effort during the recently completed River Valley tournament.
"She showed the staff she is ready for varsity play," he said.
In rolling past Prescott Dec. 13 in Wilson dome, the Lady Horns used a tenacious man-to-man press to jump out to a 17-6 lead and expand it to 34-8 at halftime.
In the second half, Huff and assistant Terry Klein gracefully called off the press and substituted at will.
"We had a lot of players get playing time," Klein said.
In the blow out, Haylee turned in what Klein labeled "her finest game of the season."
In most games, she is called upon to take on the role of floor general and dish off the ball from her point guard position. With an average of five assists per game, scoring is usually not among her contributions. But against Prescott, Huff finished with a game high 16 points that included a pair of three-pointers from beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arc and four-of-four free-throw shooting.
"It was a great all-around game," Klein said.
Off guard Danielle O'Haver was also lauded for her season-high 12 points. Herrera and Kepp chipped in with six each.
Although Britney Owens and Krystal McRae were not among the offensive leaders, the coaches praised both for their rebounding and solid defensive work under the basket.
Owens leads the team on the boards with an average of eight rebounds a game.