Coach Preps Lady Longhorns For 4a Debut

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Coach Randy Wilcox is taking a thought-provoking attitude toward the Lady Longhorn soccer team's first year of play in the 4A Grand Canyon Region.

"Somebody's got to win (the region championship). Why can't it be us?" he asked the girls after a practice last week.

He also anticipates that because PHS is a rookie 4A member and the smallest school in the conference, the Lady Horns might be overlooked in the run for postseason honors.

"We are the new kids on the block," he said. "Maybe we can sneak up on some of those teams."

Although the coach admits he doesn't know much about 4A opposition, he predicts the Lady Longhorns -- despite the loss of some key players -- could have the firepower to make it to the postseason.

"We are kind of reloading, but we'll be OK," he said.

Last year, in Wilcox's first year leading the program, the team played its way to the co-championship of the 1A-3A mountain region and to the state tournament semifinals before being ousted.

Of that team, Wilcox will have to replace three starters and a reserve who graduated last spring. The departed first teamers -- Trista Carlton, Megan Branstetter and Laura Crabtree -- all played huge roles in the state tournament. The reserve, Kira Hillegas, saw considerable playing time.

Wilcox also faces the challenge of finding replacements for last season's starting goal keeper and two junior varsity players who were being counted on to fill varsity slots.

All three -- letter winner Kody Kepp and jayvees Kendra Francis and Tracy Kirkpatrick -- opted to play basketball this season rather than soccer.

When PHS moved to the 4A conference this year, soccer became a winter sport rather than a fall offering as it was when Payson was a member of the 3A ranks.

The good news in finding a player to take over for Kepp is that Brenna Zumbro has turned out for the team. Two years ago, Zumbro was the team's starting goal keeper. After sitting out last year to concentrate on softball, Zumbro is apparently ready to resume her soccer career.

The teen also tried out for volleyball last fall, but had to step down midway through the season to fulfill a commitment she made to a Valley fast pitch softball team.

"I don't think that will happen with soccer," Wilcox said. "She's ready to go."

Also in the Lady Longhorn stable is a core of athletes seasoned by last year's rugged battles.

Returning letter winners include Lori Wing (left forward), Krista LaHaye (right wing), Kelsea Palace (midfielder), Jenny Cohen (midfielder), Lori Shepherd (right defense), Jessica Coleman (midfielder), Haylee Byler (left defense), Katie Plumb (utility) and the coach's daughter Amy Wilcox (left wing/striker).

The coach also anticipates Mary James and Ashley Geske, up from last year's jayvee team, will contribute to the varsity cause.

Freshmen Lauren Stewart and Michelle Wing also are on the varsity roster.

According to the coach, the strength of the crew could be their familiarity with one another.'

"They've been playing together all summer and that really helps," he said.

As preseason wears on, Wilcox plans include continuing to build upon the team chemistry begun in the off-season.

"We want them to work as one, as a unit," he said.

That includes fine tuning the 4-4-2 scheme that the Lady Horns relied on last year. In it, four defensive players, four midfielders and two offensive players try to control the tempo of the game and keep the opposition at bay.

As a 4A school, one of the obstacles the team will have to overcome this season is learning to deal with the winter weather conditions in northern Arizona.

"We are playing in the cold now. That means even our clothes will be different," Wilcox said. "But, we will adjust to it."

The team will probably not have to contend with cold temperatures when it kicks off the season Dec. 5 and 6 at the Higley Invitational tournament.

Barring a winter front moving into the Valley, desert temperatures should be mild when the Lady Horns open play at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 5 against Estrella Foothills. Also on the tournament's first day, Payson plays at 6:30 p.m. against Northwest Community Christian.

Game times Dec. 6 will depend on how the team fares opening day.

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