With only one returning letter-winner on the roster, Payson High School golf coach Bret Morse faces the challenge of building on the team's winning tradition with mostly untested players.
Junior Brad Meyocks, the lone veteran, was a member of last year's team that played its way to the Grand Canyon Region championship in Payson High's first year in the 4A conference.
On the opening day of the tournament played at Chaparral Pines, Meyocks paced the Horns with a 78. On the second day, he fell to 94 but wrapped up the tournament as a member of the Grand Canyon All-Region second team.
"After Brad, we are pretty much an unknown," Morse said. "We are a young team with no (varsity) experience."
The coach is hoping that five players who were on the junior varsity last season quickly mature into varsity stalwarts. They are Tom Borkowski, Justin Shuman, Nate Blanco, Bryce Danielson and Nate Jones. Borkowski is the lone senior on the team. Blanco and Shuman are juniors and Danielson and Jones sophomores.
In that crew, Morse must find the players to fill the shoes of Brandan Kelley, Billy Bob Hoyt and Troy Marrs who graduated and are now playing on college teams. Hoyt and Kelley, both four-year letter winners, led the team to the 3A state championship as freshmen and two runner-up titles.
Among the newcomers, Shuman, showed some promise during summer play. He finished eighth in the boys 15-years-and-under division at the Kingman City Junior Championships at the Cerbat Cliffs Golf Course.
On the par 72 Kingman course, he finished with a 98 and 76 (163). His second day score was among the best in his age division. Only a 73 chalked up on the first day by Mesa's Justin Searie was better than Shuman's tally.
Danielson, Borkowski, Jones and Shuman entered the Junior Golf Association of Arizona Tucson City Junior Championships June 29 and 30 at Randolph Golf Complex and the Ell Urich course.
All four competed in the boys 15 to 18 age bracket.
The best showing was turned in by Shuman who finished with a two-round total of 162 on the par 72 course.
On the first day, Shuman shot an 88 but rebounded the second day to tie for the high round of the tournament with a 74. His effort earned him a tie for a ninth-place finish.
The 74 was the best round of golf Shuman has carded in his short career.
The tournament champion, Steffen Hartwig of Oro Valley, shot a 149 (74 and 75).
Hartwig and Shuman's 74s also were the two low rounds of the tournament
Danielson finished at 196 posting a 96 and 100. Borkowski tallied a 202 (98 and 104) and Jones finished at 221 (108 and 113).
Although Morse has tagged Meyocks and the five newcomers the varsity team, he is keeping the door open for jayvee players to move up."We'll see more rotation of kids on the varsity this year," he said. "We'll probably use some of those younger players."
On the junior varsity team coached by Bret's father, Denny, are Rob Gershman, Jonathan Runion, Ryan Kooi, Cade Connolly and the lone female team member -- Casey Griffen.
Morse said the key to any success the jayvees and varsity enjoy might be the intangibles.
"We have to stay healthy and be (academically) eligible to be competitive," Morse said. "If we can do that, we have a chance."
As the defending region champions, the Longhorns will enter Grand Canyon play with targets on their backs.
Although the Horns will be the team to beat, Morse is not sure which region team has the talent to wrestle the Grand Canyon crown from Payson's grasp.
"Sinagua has two of their top three (players) coming back but other than that I don't know too much about the other teams," Morse said. "Mingus had a decent group of young kids and Page is unknown because they are changing coaches."
If there is a scheduling advantage in the region it has gone to Sinagua who will host the championships as Payson did last season.
"That's a big advantage because they know the course," Morse said.
The only problem is that Sinagua school officials haven't found a Flagstaff course to host the tournament on.
"We couldn't send any kids up this summer to practice on the course because we don't know which one (the championship will be played) on," Morse said. "We could go into them having not played the course."
With more than two weeks of preseason training behind them, the players are itching for the season to begin Aug. 31 in a nine-hole match against Chaparral at Stonecreek Golf Club in Paradise Valley.
"The kids have been working hard and now they want to play," Morse said.
The best opportunity for the young players to gain varsity experience will be at the Harvey Pennick Invitational Sept. 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13 at the Rim Club and several Valley courses. Opponents will include some of the finest prep teams in the state including Chaparral, Cactus Shadows and defending state champion, Pinnacle.