If there is any certainty in the upcoming boys soccer season, it's that the campaign will be filled with uncertainty.
The ambiguity in the Longhorns future is twofold. One reason for the vagueness is the team is moving up from the 1A-3A ranks to the 4A conference.
The other is the Horns' season will no longer be held during the fall campaign. In 4A, soccer is played during the winter season along with basketball and wrestling.
With soccer a winter sport, the Horns could be facing frigid playing conditions Jan. 10 when the team travels north to take on the Flagstaff Eagles.
Adverse weather could also be the norm during January games in Payson and Page.
For coach Roger Wholly, playing soccer during the winter months is no big deal.
"I grew up back east, so I like playing in the cold," he said. "But coaching is a little different. In drills there should be a minimum of players standing around."
Although the coach enjoys soccer as a winter offering, the shift to the winter season might have adversely affected some players.
"Our turnout was low. I normally get 40 boys to tryout, but only 28 came out this year," Wholly said. "A reason some gave was too cold."
Another excuse players gave Wholly was that the $60 fee the district charges to participate was too steep.
"I also heard, ‘I have to work,'" Wholly said.
The Longhorns slim roster is facing a season in which the team will be playing in a conference where opposing schools have student bodies twice as large as Payson's.
With a current enrollment of 908, Payson High is the smallest school in the 4A conference.
Wholly is unsure of how much more competitive big school teams will be than the ones Payson played last season in 1A-3A conference.
"I can't say. I only saw the state playoff (last season) between two 4A teams," he said. "But they were masters of the first touch on the ball. That's something Payson will work very hard to master."
The Grand Canyon region, of which the Horns are now a member, also is a mystery to Wholly.
"It's hard to say (about the region), but I have told the boys that this is the year for big surprises," he said.
Flagstaff, Mingus, Sinagua, Page, and Coconino compete in the Grand Canyon region with Payson.
Another change the Longhorns are adapting to is the shortened time winter sports teams have for preseason training.
"It's too short," Wholly said. "It's only three weeks compared to four weeks (as a fall sport)."
The coach also is lamenting the fact the team has had to cease practice sessions at 5 p.m. three days a week to allow the Rumsey Park playing field to be used for other purposes.
This week, however, the team will be able to practice from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
"Hopefully we will get everything done that the coaches would like before the first game," Wholly said.
The heavy rain that drenched the Rumsey field Nov. 12 was a blessing in disguise.
"The boys and the coaches learned a lot about how to play a soaking wet field and how the ball plays," Wholly said.
During all of the preseason practices, Wholly and his staff have spent time fine-tuning the 4-4-2 offense the team used last year when it tied Sedona for the 1A-3A state championship.
The offense features four midfielders, four defenders and two forwards.
The defenders include left and right defensemen, a sweeper and a stopper. In the midfield are right and left wings, an attacking mid and a defending mid.
Favorites to man the positions are seven returning letter winners from last year's team. They include Kyle Asmundson, Patrick Karlowski, Michael Fanizza, Michael Orozco, Mark Hillegas, Daniel Reisdorf and Trevor LaHaye.
If there is an obvious leader in the bunch, it might to LaHaye. During a Nov. 14 practice session, LaHaye was the player who led drills and seemingly provided the spark all successful teams must have.
Among the LaHaye-led crew and several players up from last year's jayvee team, Wholly will have to find replacements for the 11 standouts who graduated last spring.
On hand to assist Wholly this season is a coaching staff that includes his wife, Kim, Keith Hoover, Ken Holcomb and Brandon Peters.
The Longhorns open the season at 3 p.m. Nov. 25 at Scottsdale Coronado.
The Horns' biggest early season test, however, will probably be the Sky Hawk Classic tournament Dec. 1 to 6. During that span of six games, Wholly will have the opportunity to evaluate his players and settle on a lineup before the Grand Canyon region season kicks off Jan. 10 at Flagstaff.