The Payson High School golf team could be a little rusty when the 2003 campaign tees off tomorrow (Wednesday) in Snowflake.
Any out-of-sync tendencies the players experience might be attributed to the inclement weather of recent weeks. Due to wet and snowy playing conditions, the Longhorns haven't been able to practice as frequently as coach Bret Morse had planned.
As shaky as the team might be in Snowflake, the players realize the match is important in that it marks the start of the pursuit of a second state golf championship.
In 2001, Morse's team came from behind on the second day to win the Class 3A title. Last season, the Longhorns finished as state runner-ups.
The nucleus of this year's squad will be a trio of players who were members of the Longhorns state title contending teams of the past two years.
As veteran players, juniors Billy Bob Hoyt and Brandon Kelley and senior Kyle Kent will be counted on to spearhead the Longhorn charge to regional and state titles.
The three avid players could be among the best high school golfers in the state.
As good as the three are, Horn success will depend on other players stepping up to fill the void created by the loss of Jeff Higgins, Allan McDermott and John McDermott. Higgins graduated from PHS last spring and the McDermott brothers moved to California with their family.
Tyler Danielson, Troy Marrs and Thomas Borkowski are among the candidates to fill the vacancies. All were members of last year's junior varsity team. Daniels and Marrs are juniors and Borkowski is a sophomore.
Also in the hunt for varsity starting positions are newcomers Michael Fanizza, Josh Rodriquez, Nathan Blanco and Brady Meyocks. Fanizza and Rodriquez are juniors. Meyocks and Blanco are freshmen.
"There is a strong possibility that one or two of the newcomers will be varsity regulars," Morse said.
In the limited preseason practices that Morse has been able to conduct, he's identified team strength as the three returning veterans he has to build around. The glaring weakness, he said, is "that we have to fill three varsity spots with players that are untested and have little or no tournament experience."
Even with rookie players in the lineup, Morse is optimistic about the season.
"We could have a very good team and we should be as good as or better than last year's team," he said.
The key to victory for the Longhorns will be strong all-around showing from all the varsity players.
"In high school and college team competition, it takes consistency from top to bottom to win tournament and championships," Morse said. "Golf is not an individual sport, it's a team effort and everyone has to contribute to be successful."
For the Longhorns to earn a region championship, the team will have to outplay a pair of longtime foes.
"The East will be a dogfight between Snowflake, Show Low and Payson," Morse predicts. "Snowflake returns three players from last year's region championship team."
Although Snowflake won the East championship last spring, the Lobos fell to third at state behind Payson and 3A champ Sedona.
This year, the Lobos received a welcomed boost from an experienced player who transferred to Snowflake from a Class 5A school.
"He will help round out a strong lineup," Morse said.
Show Low will be in the hunt for the title mostly because "they get to host regionals," Morse said.
In high school golf, the home course advantage is a tremendous edge. That means, the Longhorns will be tough to beat when playing at either the Rim Club or Chaparral Pines.
"Those are tremendous courses," Morse said. "The practice facilities are top notch and the courses themselves are difficult tests for our players."
The two courses, which the Payson teams call home, are as challenging as any in Arizona.
"We do not play any courses that are as difficult and so our players are not intimidated by any course we play," Morse said.
The Rim Club was ranked the best private/public course in the state of Arizona last year. It also was recently ranked by Golf Week magazine the top golf community in the southwest.
"What a privilege it is for our players to experience those golf venues," Morse said.
The difficulty of the two courses should help the Longhorns prepare for the regional championships that will be held at Show Low's Torreon Golf Club. The state championships are slated for Johnson Ranch in Queen Creek.
When the Longhorns do reach the state tournament, the odds-on favorite to win the title will be Sedona.
"They are the team to beat," Morse said. "They return five out of six players from last year's team."
Payson makes its home debut March 12 in a 9-hole match at The Rim. Tee time is 2 p.m.