With the Grand Canyon regional tournament set to begin Oct. 28 at Flagstaff Coconino High School, the Lady Longhorns are positioning themselves for solid showing in the postseason.
Coach Chris Schwind says Coconino, Sinagua and Flagstaff are the teams the Lady Horns will have to beat in order to finish among the tournament's top two and earn a trip to state. She bases her assessment of the three Flagstaff schools on the results of regular season play and tournament competition.
"We play in a tough region," she said. "All of those teams have been (top-10) ranked and are among the best in the (4A) conference."
Coconino will provide Payson the stiffest test party because the Panthers sport a budding star, Kim Cox, whose play has been prolific enough to earn her full ride scholarship to New Mexico University.
Flagstaff and Sinagua both feature tall front lines that the Lady Horns have struggled against this season.
Whipping Flagstaff, which was at one time state seventh-ranked, could be the key to PHS playoff hopes.
After clipping the Eagles 3-1 in a Sept. 18 meeting in Flagstaff, the Lady Horns dropped a 3-2 decision to Flagstaff Oct. 14 in Wilson dome.
The Lady Horns lost the first game 25-21, but came back to win a 27-25 decision. In the third, the Eagles prevailed 26-24. Payson's 25-22 victory in the fourth game set up a finale the Eagles narrowly escaped with 15-13.
"We lost, but we played really well," Schwind said. "Most all of those games were only decided by two or three points."
Because Payson has shown well all season against the Eagles, confidence is building in the Lady Horn camp that the team has the talent to sneak by Flagstaff in the regional tournament and make a run at nailing down a state tournament berth.
According to the coach, the key to beating the three Flagstaff schools is generating more offense.
"We have a hard time getting kills," Schwind said. "We need some offensive power. We can play with those teams defensively, but they eventually wear us down."
What offense Payson does have in its arsenal has been provided most of the season by the front line of Staci Scholl, Rikki Ray and Britney Owens, Schwind said.
In the loss to Flagstaff, Owens had seven kills, Scholl racked up seven and Ray had five.
"All three did a really good job," Schwind said.
Scholl and Ray hold down the outside hitter positions. Owens has manned the middle hitter slot since the onset of the campaign.
Schwind is predicating that if the trio comes together and all turn in solid performances on the same evening, the Lady Horns could be heading to state.
"We've had one (of the three) play really well and the next night, another one will," the coach said. "We need all of the hitters at once."
In Payson's 6-2 offensive scheme, Shea Hatch and Haylee Huff are usually the two setters. In the loss to Flagstaff, however, Huff was attending a funeral and not available to play. Hatch was forced to play all five games as the lone setter in the Payson "O."
"She did a tremendous job for us," Schwind said.
Hatch is one of five seniors on the team that also features seven juniors.
The Longhorns wrap up regular season region play Oct. 23 in Wilson dome against Coconino. Game times are 4 p.m. (frosh), 5 p.m. (junior varsity) and 6 p.m. (varsity).