The Longhorn soccer teams could become the only Payson High School soccer squads to ever participate in a 4A state tournament.
After neither team qualified last season, Payson's first year in the 4A conference, both the boys and girls squads earned berths this year to the state showdown.
Since PHS will return to the 3A conference next year and 4A could be dissolved into small- and large-school conferences, the opportunity for the Longhorns to play in the 4A state tournament will probably never again exist.
If the Horns want to be considered a legitimate force in Arizona's metropolitan soccer circles, they have only one chance to do so.
For the boys team, that opportunity begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday on the south Rumsey Park multipurpose field.
Because the Horns enter the state showdown as the Grand Canyon Region No. 2 seed, the team has received the home field advantage in the opening round. The Horns are pitted against Glendale -- the Desert Sky Region No. 3 qualifier in the single-elimination state tournament.
If the Horns win, they would advance to a second-round game at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 3 at the home of Sonoran regional champion, Tucson Rincon.
The Lady Longhorns qualified for the state tournament as the Grand Canyon's No. 3 seed and are pitted against Sonoran runner-up Ironwood Ridge. That game is at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Ironwood.
A win would propel the Lady Horns into a second-round game at 5 p.m. Feb. 3 at Tucson Catalina Foothills, the Kino regional champion.
The state championship games will be Feb. 12 at Arizona State University's soccer stadium. The girls game is on tap for 10 a.m., and the boys game will kick off at 12:30 p.m.
Boys rally for two Ws
The Longhorns opened the GCR tournament Jan. 25 with a 1-0 victory over the homestanding Page Sand Devils. In the game, which was the Grand Canyon Region tournament opener, Trent Hubbard scored the only goal of the clash midway through the second half. Hubbard scored seconds after a throw-in deep in Page's end of the field. Right wing Nathan Doyle was credited with an assist on the play.
Following the victory, coach Roger Wholly cited midfielders Loreto Yanez and David Hernandez for controlling the tempo of the game.
With the win, Payson advanced to the second round of the regional tournament Jan. 26 at Mingus High School.
Pitted against GC Region regular-season champion Flagstaff, the Horns pulled off the upset of the campaign defeating the Eagles 1-0. Hubbard scored the winning goal with five minutes remaining in the first half.
A heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Sinagua Jan. 27 at Rumsey Park erased any hopes the Longhorns had of winning the regional. tournament and advancing to state as a No. 1 seed.
With the state second seed in tow, Wholly cited his players for exceptional performance in the GCR tournament.
"The whole team goes down as the MVPs," he said.
The Lady Horns
After wrapping up the regular season Jan. 21 with a 3-2 loss to Mingus in overtime, the Lady Horns advanced to Page Jan. 25 without the services of Michelle Wing and Lauren Stewart, who suffered injuries in the loss to the Marauders.
The Lady Horns took an early lead on Katie Plumb's goal only to see Page score the tying goal with just 46 seconds remaining.
In overtime, neither team could score, forcing the two teams into their third shoot out in two years.
In the shoot out, Coach Joe Schmidt chose his five seniors to take the kicks. Of those, Lori Wing, Jessica Coleman and Mary James tallied to lift Payson to a 3-2 victory.
With the hard-earned win, the Lady Horns advanced to the GCR tournament's second round in Mingus. There, a 3-0 loss to Flagstaff dropped Payson into a third-round battle against the homestanding Marauders. At stake was the third and final seed to state.
With the two teams locked in a 1-1 tie, it appeared Payson might be headed into another overtime and shoot out. But late in the second half, Katie Plumb pulled off the play of the game scoring from about 15 yards away after the Mingus goalie came out to challenge her.
"Katie touched the ball just as they collided and shot the game winner in," Schmidt said. "It was beautiful."
With a 2-1 lead, the PHS defense kept Mingus at bay the remainder of the clash.