Fall sports players are on the threshold of yet another season. Only this year, something is different.
Payson High School teams will be playing in the 4A division for the first time and that means more practice and stiffer competition.
The Roundup recently spoke with the coaches and a few players of all four fall sports; cross country, football, volleyball and golf. While the coaches said they were not intimidated by 4A play, they all admitted the obstacles facing their teams are considerable.
The finish line
"It'll be a little tougher for us," said Chuck Hardt in reference to the hurdles his team will face in the 4A division."This is a big step up ... Not only will we go from 3A to 4A, but in 3A, four teams go to state. In 4A, only three do. I've been really driving the point home that they need to step up and carry on the tradition that we have."
Hardt said many runners on the team have been practicing individually and keeping in contact with him throughout the summer.
"I tell them that championships are won in November, but are earned in the summer when it comes to cross country," he said, reiterating the importance of practice.
He said the next step for the team is the first practice after school Aug. 11, when he will begin to choose this season's runners.
"The mystery of the thing is kind of appealing," he said about the tryout process. "Every year, you're always wondering who's going to walk through the door. Every time, you have returners, but you never know who is going to show up."
In the end zone
Head football coach Jerry Rhoades said he is confident this season's team will fare well in 4A.
"We'll play much bigger schools," Rhoades said. "I expect it to be very competitive, but I think we'll have a good year."
To prepare for 4A play, Rhoades held weight workouts twice a day, three times a week all summer so his players would stay in shape.
"It's extremely important (to stay in shape)," Rhoades said. "We are moving up and playing bigger schools now. Every single one of them does it. It's one of those things you have to do if you want to be competitive."
As part of maintaining player fitness, Rhoades launched a preseason football camp Monday that ended today. The players met in the school's old gymnasium all week for strength training and transferred to the field at Rumsey Park for practice. They paid $5 for the camp.
"I believe our kids are going to step up to the challenge," Rhoades said. "I coached in the (4A) league last year, so I know a little bit about every team we're going to play ... We have a chance of beating most."
Alex Vlahopoulos, a senior defensive end, said he is optimistic about the upcoming season.
"We're going to have a lot of victories," he said. "We've got a good coach, some good guys and a good attitude ---- the musts for a winning team."
Official football practice begins Aug. 4.
Bump, set, spike
Like the football team, volleyball players have been gearing up for 4A play with increased practice all summer.
Coach Chris Schwind organized open gyms a couple of times every week and players traveled across the state for three volleyball camps.
"I think this is probably one of stronger teams we've had since I've been coaching," said Schwind, who has led the team for the past four years. "I think Flagstaff and Coconino will be really tough because they are club teams that play year-round and club teams are tough to beat."
Schwind has scheduled an optional four-day mini volleyball camp that begins at 6 p.m. Aug. 4 in the school's dome. The cost is $5.
Official practice begins Aug. 11 and also will be held in the dome.
"They're a real determined, competitive group," Schwind said, "and I think they will play up for their competition."
Golf coach Bret Morse said the transition from 3A to 4A play can pose a formidable challenge to players.
"Our first few guys will be as good as anybody, but they (larger schools) have more kids to draw from," he said. "We pick five varsity players out of 850 students. They have twice that (number of students). Logic would tell you that they have twice as many good golfers. We're going to have to pick up the notch a little bit."
To prepare for the tougher competition, players have been practicing individually all summer and Morse held a couple of clinics in June geared toward freshman golfers.
Brandon Kelley, a senior and one of the team's best golfers according to Morse, has been busy this summer competing in various golf tournaments and practicing as much as he can. He said players have to be prepared for much more than the physical aspects of golf.
"(Most important) is your mental game," Kelley said. "You have to think for every shot, remember how your swing needs to feel every swing ... You have to think of slopes, of fairways, where the ball is going to bounce, where to hit it. There are a million things to think about in golf."
Morse said senior Billy Bob Hoyt is another of the team's most valuable players.
Hoyt tried to verbalize the difficulty of the sport.
"Golf is just about the most frustrating sport," he said. "You're thinking about it hitting a little ball around the course and trying to get it in the hole ... If you really want to play golf, you have to work pretty hard at it."
Official team practice begins Aug. 11 at the Chaparral Pines Golf Club.
Each player must pay $60 per sport he/she plays, an amount the school's athletic office stops at $150. For example, if a family has two high school students playing two sports, they will need to pay $150 instead of $240.
To qualify for a sport, students must turn in results of physical exams to the athletic office. Freshmen need to turn in a copy of their birth certificate.
Coaches will begin choosing their players during the first official practices.