With the regular season at an end, the Lady Longhorns open pursuit of an East Region Tournament championship at 1 p.m. today (Friday) in Eagar/Springerville.
By virtue of Payson's second-place finish in the regular season, the team received a first-round bye in the tournament that tipped-off Tuesday.
East champion Round Valley was also awarded a first-round bye.
Payson's opponent today, Snowflake, whipped Alchesay in the first round. Snowflake opened the postseason with a third-place seed and Alchesay was sixth.
If Payson can dispose of the Lobos, the team will advance to the tournament championship tomorrow (Saturday) at Round Valley High School.
Lady Longhorn coach Krystal Garvin, in her first year at the helm of the program, is confident the team has the work ethic to succeed in the tournament.
"I know the sweat and effort they have put forth, even when it's been tough," she said. "They've always hung in there and are determined to go the distance."
When Garvin was appointed the head coach last summer to replace Shaun Hardt who had resigned, she accepted knowing the team had lost its two leading scorers -- Brandi Waugh and Whitney Hardt.
"I knew that we were young and had lost key players," she said. "Not wanting to put labels on girls I knew little about, my focus has always been to work hard."
In the early season, the Lady Horns were often overlooked by their East region opponents.
"I think other teams underestimated us," Garvin said.
That miscue by opponents allowed Payson to rack up several upset victories.
After mid-season, opposing teams were much better prepared for the scrappy Lady Horns.
"The second round of region play hasn't been easy -- teams have really keyed on us," Garvin said.
The coach said she hopes the rugged end to the season has better prepared her players for postseason play.
Most of the regular season, the Lady Horns have relieved on the one-two inside scoring punch of Trista Carlton and Ashli Herrera. In the regional tournament, the pair will need to continue to pound the boards for close-in shots. In addition to her offense, Carlton's inside power game has allowed her to draw more fouls than any other Payson player. If she can get to the free throw line, and make good on the attempts, those points could prove to be the victory margin in closely contested games.
If the Lady Horns have a weakness, it could be their outside shooting.
All season, the team has not been able to consistently sink the long ball. That shortcoming might have been shored up with the return of junior guard Amy Wilcox to the lineup.
After sitting out the early season with severe asthma, Wilcox -- a good outside shooter -- has returned to the lineup for spot duty.
Sophomore guard Tanya Davis should also be available for tournament play after sitting out two games with a severely sprained ankle.
If Davis and Wilcox can hit the outside jumpers while Herrera and Carlton are controlling the low blocks, the Lady Horns have two of the key ingredients it takes to be successful in region and state tournaments.
Payson also will need a strong floor game from point guard Haylee Huff who leads the team in assists with more than four a game. Huff's job will be to distribute the ball, play the role of floor general and help break defensive pressure.
Others who will be counted on to contribute are Krystal McRae, Autumn Herrera, Laura Crabtree and Britney Owens.