Longhorns May Be Heading To America West

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Gazing into a crystal ball, it's not at all difficult to envision Longhorn teams reaching the state tournament's final four to be played in America West Arena.

A Payson hoop team has not been to the final four since the hardwood semifinals and finals were moved to AWA a decade ago.

Talk to just about any teenager on the Longhorn or Lady Longhorn team and they'll tell you it's their dream to play on the same court as the Phoenix Suns and other NBA teams.

The Class 3A state tournament brackets, which were recently finalized by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, are identical for both the boys and girls teams.

If the PHS boys team can earn an East first-place seed in the regional tournament Feb. 14 and 15, the Horns would open pursuit of a state championship Feb. 19 against the South No. 4 seed at Northern Arizona University or a Flagstaff high School.

The Horns would be the favorites to win that game.

A first round win, should it occur, would propel Payson into the quarterfinal round Feb. 19 at NAU. The foe would be the winner of a first round game between the West runner-up and the North bronze medalist. Against either survivor, the Horns would have a good chance of winning. That would qualify Payson for its first trip to America West Arena at 6:45 p.m. Feb. 21.

If the Longhorns fall to a two-seed in the regional tournament, the team would still have a good opportunity to advance to AWA.

The East's two-seed opens against South No. 3 and with a win would play the survivor of a West No. 1 vs. North No. 4 first-round clash. Even if the Longhorns have to take on the West champions, the roster sports the athletes to win.

Barring an upset victory over the Round Valley Lady Elks in the region tournament, the Lady Longhorns will probably have to settle for a No. 2 seed to state. Pitted against South No. 3 in the opening round, Payson has the talent to pull off a victory.

The real question would come in the second round against the winner of West No. 1 vs. North No. 4 opening round game. The West champion would seem to be an odds-on favorite to advance. But, because the North's reservation schools play at such a competitive label, an upset is conceivable.

Against either team, coach Krystal Garvin, in her first year as head coach, has her players competing at the fevered pitch it takes to reach the final rounds.

In short, it will take only two wins against what appears to be beatable opponents to get the PHS hoops teams to prep hoop's version of the Promised Land.

Of course, the aspiration of almost every prep athlete is to someday play in a state championship. That showdown is slated for 8 p.m. Feb. 22 in America West Arena.

PHS boys basketball coach Mike Loutzenheiser knows the great pride that goes with reaching the state championship. His championship foray, however, was in football not basketball.

As a senior at Payson High in 1986, Loutzenheiser was a wide receiver/defensive back for our Longhorn team that scratched and clawed its way into the state final against Snowflake. Unfortunately, we lost 7-0.

Loutzenheiser says it is his ambition to help his players someday enjoy their own state championship memoirs.

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