Saying goodbye to senior athletes after having coached them through prep sports is one of the toughest chores a high school coach faces.
Krystal Garvin, in her first year as coach of the Lady Longhorn basketball team, is now bidding adieu to a trio of seniors who played various roles in the team's success.
The seniors, Ashli Herrera, Trista Carlton and Laura Crabtree, are "three very different, yet incredible individuals," Garvin said.
Carlton, the team's go-to player all season, led the team in scoring (12.8 ppg), rebounding (10.4 ppg).
"She brought fierce intensity and competition to the squad," Garvin said. "Her strength and physical play on the court will be tough to match, but I know she's left her returning teammates with a strong impression on how to get the job done -- she's a competitor."
The coach characterized Herrera as "a player who brought experience, leadership and an incredible work ethic to our team. She led by example and stepped up as a strong forward often given the job of guarding the opponent's best scorer.
"Game in and game out, Ashli was our most consistent player."
Herrera averaged 12.2 points and six rebounds per game.
Crabtree was a four-year member of the Lady Longhorn program who suffered an early season injury that sidelined her for several weeks.
"Upon her return, she continued to prove valuable by stepping it up in difficult games and providing us with either a much-needed basket or ball-handling when our starting guards were struggling," Garvin said. "Laura has one of the most genuine, upbeat and fun personalities I've coached. Her positive personality provided our team with much needed balance."
In a voting of coaches at the conclusion of the season, Carlton and Herrera were named to the All-East region team. Region honorable mention went to sophomores Haylee Huff and Autumn Herrera.
Lady Horns surprise
At the onset of the season, the Lady Longhorns were not projected to have much of an impact in the East region title chase.
The lack of expectations might have been because the team had lost its two leading scorers from the previous season and Garvin was a late replacement for previous coach Shaun Hardt who resigned.
Although Garvin was in her first assignment as a head varsity coach, she brought to the program years of experience as an assistant in the boys program and volleyball. She also played in college.
Almost immediately, Garvin proved she had the stuff of which good coaches are made.
At the Payson Invitational in December, she led the team to a surprising third-place finish in a field that included eventual state champion, Round Valley.
Later, in the Lady Horns' home opener, the team pulled off the upset of the early season whipping highly favored Snowflake.
"That was a season highlight," she said.
In a postseason regional tournament game against Blue Ridge, the Lady Horns staged one of the most dramatic comebacks recently witnessed in prep basketball.
Down by five points and only seconds remaining on the clock, the Lady Horns relied on pressured defense and clutch shooting to salvage a win.
The victory propelled Payson into the state tournament as a No. 3 seed against South No. 2 seed Globe.
Although the Lady Horns shouldered the role of the underdog, the team posted an upset win over the Tigers.
Before being eliminated in the state's second round, the team posted a respectable 17-13 overall record. In the East, Payson finished as the region runner-up with a 7-3 mark.
With the season at an end, Garvin is looking forward to the challenge of working with the five sophomores who contributed to the varsity effort this season.
"We have a strong group (of sophomores) who will be giving PHS two incredible more years," she said.
The coach also admits that she's not the least bit intimidated about moving next season to the 4A conference from the 3A ranks where Payson has resided for 13 years.
"It'll be exciting, I can't wait," she said.