When the 2004 basketball season wrapped up in February, Lady Longhorn coach Rory Huff spewed a bold predication.
"Next year, we should be one of the teams to beat (in the Grand Canyon region)," he said.
Huff's optimism was fueled by the knowledge he had his entire roster of 10 players returning.
After an off season of conditioning, summer tournaments, weight training and camps, eight of those players showed up for pre-season drills when they tipped off Nov. 1. The only veterans not on hand were Kendra Francis and Kodi Kepp.
Francis is undergoing surgery to repair a knee injury and Kepp was lost to academic difficulties.
Both were expected to play prominent roles in the lady Horns quest for regional honors.
The coach's task will be to find adequate replacements for the two. The veterans returning are Tanya Davis, Krystal McRae, Autumn Herrera, Haylee Huff, Danielle O'Haver, Tracy Fitzpatrick, Britney Owens and Tori Wilbanks.
To that roster, Huff has added Cassandra Cly and Jadyen Walden.
McRae returns to the lineup as last year's leading scorer having posted a 9.4 points per game average. She also was the Lady Horns most accurate shooter, hitting about 46 percent of her two-point shots.
As a low post stalwart, McRae seldom ventured into three-point land.
The Lady Horns leading long range threat, O'Haver, spent the fall season conditioning and working on her shooting.
If defenders sag off her this season, she could increase the 89 three-pointers she cashed in on last year.
Huff, the coach's daughter, is the team spark plug. Playing point guard she dished out 4.4 assists per game and was the team's best free throw shooter, hitting 53 of her 78 (67.9 percent) attempts.
Owens begins the campaign as the leading rebounder from last season, averaging 7.1 per game. She also contributed 5.9 ppg to the offense.
Davis is returning to the PHS fold as a three-year letter winner who brings grit and determination to the cause.
Fitzpatrick and Wilbanks picked up valuable varsity playing time last year as reserves. That experience will serve them well for the rigors of a full season on varsity.
Coaching 'em up
Coach Huff spent the first two weeks of practice working on correcting the players shooting deficiencies from the floor and the free throw line.
Last year, the Lady Horns, who finished 17-11 and fourth in the Grand Canyon Region standings, struggled offensively in a 48-34 regional tournament loss that ended the season for the PHS hardwooders.
From the line, Payson hit only 11 of 29 attempts. Of the 40 two-point attempts, the Lady Horns were successful on only 10. From beyond the three-point arc, Payson hit just two of 10 attempts.
Averaging 38 percent from the free throw line, 25 percent from two-point territory and 20 percent from beyond 19-feet, 9-inches, won't win many ball games, Huff bemoaned.
Following that loss, he vowed to focus on improving each player's shooting touch.
"We are looking for scorers," he said.
The team's strength, Huff predicts, will be that the players and coach have been together for three years and know one another well.
Huff also promises that this year's edition of the Lady Horns will be a fun team to watch.
"We'll be running (the fast break) and playing in-your-face defense," he said. "We'll also be sometimes using a full-court press."
The pressure defense and jail break-style offense will have to contend with potent Sinagua and Flagstaff teams that Huff predicts will be title contenders along with the Lady Horns.
On the lower levels, Rim Country Middle School physical education teacher Carol Hayes will coach the junior varsity and former Lady Horn standout Cheryl Chase will head the freshmen.
Huff has the opportunity to assess his players and settle on a starting lineup in a controlled scrimmage Nov. 19 at Phoenix Christian. Tip off is 6:30 p.m.
The season begins in earnest Nov. 22 in Wilson Dome against Notre Dame Prep of Scottsdale. Game time is 7 p.m. The game will be preceded by freshmen (4 p.m.) and jayvee (5:30) clashes against ND.