The Longhorn soccer team will open the 2004 campaign handcuffed by the lack of a practice field, no junior varsity, and membership in the rugged 4A Grand Canyon Region.
According to coach Roger Wholly, the toughest challenge to overcome has been finding a practice field.
"We have had a hard time getting in a full practice because of youth and flag football teams being scheduled at the same time as us," he said. "I feel it will affect the readiness of the squad."
The coach hopes that Payson High School will soon have its own practice field.
"Then, soccer would not be at the mercy of the town," he said.
Currently, the town's parks and recreation department oversees the two Rumsey Park fields that the Longhorn soccer team uses for practice and games. P&R officials also schedule the field for use by town recreation teams and youth football.
The lack of a practice site has forced the coach to change his focus.
"Full field drills are limited, so we have worked on set plays, endurance and conditioning," he said.
In addition to trying to solve the problems created by limited facilities, Wholly has had to contend with a disappointing turnout in which the varsity roster has only 20 players.
The coach anticipates that when Payson High departs 4A and returns to the 3A conference next season, participation could improve.
As a member of the Grand Canyon Region, the Horns must battle polished teams from Flagstaff and Mingus.
"All the teams will be challenging," Wholly said.
The coach hopes to improve on a disappointing 2003-2004 season in which the team sputtered most of the campaign.
"We want to win more than one region game and advance further into regional playoffs," Wholly said. "This is the only chance to win a regional or state championship in 4A."
Another goal will be to emphasize that soccer is a game to be enjoyed.
"I felt winning was over-stressed last season," Wholly said. "I have made that a secondary goal and our primary goal will be to learn more about the game and enjoy playing it."
Although the varsity roster is undermanned, it does feature a junior standout who has won all-region honors in both the 3A and 4A conferences.
As a freshman, Patrick Karlowski was named to the 3A All-East Region second team. Last year, he was a Grand Canyon Region honorable mention player.
Last spring, Karlowski hooked up with the United 88s Mesa Soccer Club. On the team with him is PHS teammate Ian Benney, as well as players from Prescott, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert.
Playing on the club team and the Longhorn squad has resulted in the PHS star being involved in the sport almost year-round.
The demands are exhausting, but that's OK with the teen.
"I love to play soccer," he said. "I've been doing it since I was 5 years old. It's good experience for me."
Club soccer, however, has had its challenges for Karlowski.
"It's more physical and faster," Karlowski said. "Plus, I'm learning a new position."
On the Longhorn team he plays forward or midfielder and concentrates mostly on offense. On the club team, he plays as a stopper on defense.
"It means I'm not up in the attack as much," he said. "It's kind of different."
In addition to Karlowski, Wholly will have the services of four other returning letter winners: Shane Tuer, Eric Lammers, Trent Hubbard and Benney.
Those players will form the nucleus around which Wholly will build his team.
The coach has the opportunity to learn if preseason training yielded good results when the regular season kicks off at 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29 on the Rumsey Park south field against Scottsdale Coronado.