Lady Longhorn basketball players won't have to wait until the Feb. 16 state tournament to find out how they fare against some of Arizona's finest hoop squads.
Currently, three Grand Canyon region teams are state top-10 ranked.
Page sports 16-4 credentials and is ranked No. 4. Rated No. 7, Flagstaff Sinagua boasts an 18-4 record and is fresh off a 23-point romp over Coconino. The 17-4 Flagstaff Eagles are soaring along at No. 9.
Due to the presence of the three highly ranked teams, Payson coach Rory Huff said the Grand Canyon region is the toughest in the 4A conference.
The trio of talented Grand Canyon opponents also has made regional life doubly tough for the young Lady Longhorns (15-8) who probably realize winning a regional title is out of reach.
But, if the Lady Horns can hang on to fourth place where the team now sits, Payson would host a Grand Canyon tournament first round game Feb. 10.
If the Lady Horns fall to fifth, the team would have to travel, possibly to Chinle, for a tournament opener.
Huff doesn't want to see his team on the road in the first round.
"Hosting is a big advantage," he said. "We don't want to travel, especially if it's to Chinle where they have thousands (of fans) turn out."
The Lady Horns can take a huge step towards clinging to the fourth-place slot, or moving up in the standings, with a victory today (Tuesday) over Flagstaff. Tip off is 5:30 p.m. in Wilson Dome.
The regular season wraps up with a trio of regional games against Chinle (Jan. 30), Sinagua (Feb.3) and Mingus (Feb. 4).
The team travels to Chinle, but hosts both Sinagua and Mingus. Game times are 5:30 p.m.
Payson goes 2-1
The Lady Horns last flexed their regional muscle Jan. 22 in a 61-47 romp over homestanding Coconino. Only two days earlier in Mingus, Payson ran past the Marauders 59-31.
In a 49-40 loss to Page Jan. 17 in Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns gave the highly regarded Sand Devils all the competition they could handle.
After falling behind 10-5 early and 21-13 at halftime, Payson played on even terms with Page throughout the second half, although the Lady Horns were outscored 28-27.
Britney Owens led the Payson charge scoring 18 points. Much of her offense was from the free-throw line where she cashed in on eight of 10 attempts. Owens, who is the team's leading rebounder and a defensive stalwart in the paint, was the only Payson player to score in double figures.
In the win over Mingus, the Lady Horns jumped out to an early 18-8 lead thanks in part to a pair of early three-pointers from Danielle O'Haver. With about a 39 percent long-range shooting mark, O'Haver is one of the top marksmen on the team.
After Payson built a 37-14 halftime lead over the frustrated Marauders, Huff substituted at will from his nine-player roster.
Owens contributed 13 points and Krystal McRae had 10. O'Haver's nine points came on a trio of shots from beyond the 19-foot 9-inch arc. Tanya Davis tallied eight points while Kendra Francis and Kody Kepp finished with six each.
In the 17-point drubbing of Coconino, the Lady Horns overcame a 26-point outburst from the Panther's Charmayne Johnson who went to the free-throw line 22 times. Johnson hit 16 of the shots.
Her bevy of free throws wasn't enough to make up for a well-balanced Payson scoring attack led by McRae (17 points) and O'Haver (13). Autumn Herrera tallied nine and sophomore Tracy Fitzpatrick had seven. All of Kepp's six points were scored in the second half.