First year Lady Longhorn coach Joe Schmidt was openly concerned about his team's placement and schedule in the Knight's Joust Soccer Tournament held Dec. 3 and 4 at Higley High School.
He reasoned, the Lady Horns were placed in the tough No. 2 pool and forced to play back-to-back games mostly because of the solid reputation Payson built last year when it reached the championship round of the Higley showdown.
Schmidt shouldn't have been concerned.
Rising to the challenge of the tournament schedule, the Lady Horns compiled a 3-1 mark losing only in the championship round, 3-1, to tournament host Higley.
In addition to returning to Payson with a silver medal, the Lady Horns had a trio of players -- Michelle Wing, Katie Plumb and Jessica Coleman -- chosen to the All-Tournament team.
According to Schmidt, the two days of competition provided the players with early season opportunities to gear up their game.
"The girls greatly improved their passing and ball distribution during the course of the tournament," he said.
But there are other facets of the game that left something to be desired.
"We have some work to do on finishing our shot opportunities," Schmidt said.
That deficiency turned obvious in the championship game against a Higley team that, Schmidt said, "had an edge in speed and in heading the ball."
Playing in a driving rain, Higley took a 2-0 halftime lead behind a rock solid defense. Early in the second half, Michelle Wing scored on a breakaway to close the Knight's lead to 2-1.
That score, breathed life into a the Payson team.
Late in the game, however, Higley ended Horn hopes, scoring on a direct kick.
"That put it out of reach," Schmidt said.
The Lady Horns opened the tournament on a somewhat disappointing note when Desert Ridge failed to show for a scheduled game.
"They misread their schedule, didn't show up, and we won by forfeit," Schmidt said.
In second round of pool play, the Lady Horns ran roughshod over Queen Creek 4-0.
"Our midfield dominated the game, stopping every attack and sending the ball forward for our more than 30 shots on goal," Schmidt said. "Queen Creek played a bunker style defense having eight defenders most of the game."
In the third round of pool play, the Lady Horns dumped Willow Creek, 4-0, to advance to the tournament semifinals against Phoenix Country Day.
Against a very good PCD team, the two squads played to a scoreless first half. But in the second half, the relentlessness and physical play of the Payson offense began to pay dividends.
"Their defense began to wear down and Michelle (Wing) scored twice to put it away, 2-0," Schmidt said.
The Lady Horns return to action at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at Rumsey Park against a formidable Pinnacle team.
"They hold the No. 5 ranking in the state and have perhaps the state's best 4A player in forward Kristen Donati," Schmidt said.