Returning Seniors Prime Team To Be Best Yet

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Lady Longhorn hopes of becoming one of the East region's elite teams rest on the shoulders of a solid crew of returning seniors.

The fourth year players include Michelle Wing, Hannah Lee, Shanna Coleman, Danielle Dillion, Tamara Crabdree, Danielle Dillon and Caitlin Fruth.

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Lady Longhorn soccer action tips off Aug. 28 in a controlled scrimmage at Sedona High School. Game time is noon.

Wing, Lee and Coleman are probably the most heralded of the veterans having won either tournament, region or state honors last season. Wing was named to all-East and all-state tournament first teams and Coleman was an all-East second team selection. Lee was chosen to the Camp Verde all-tournament team.

This season, Wing will return to her midfield position. Coleman will play both defender and midfielder and Lee is penciled in at both forward and mid-fielder.

Wing and Coleman have also been tapped to serve as team captains for the second successive season. Junior Jamie Bilyk will join them as a tri-captain.

After accessing his players during the past three weeks of preseason training, coach Joe Schmidt lauds his veteran players as a select group that has the moxie and experience to lead the Lady Horns to the postseason promised land.

"We have a core of skilled, experienced players who believe they can go further this year in the state tournament," he said.

In 2005, the Lady Horns were eliminated from the state tournament by a 4-0 first round loss to East region champion and state runner-up Blue Ridge.

The key to improving last year's performance might be off-season practice and conditioning.

"Many of (the players) worked hard this summer to improve their attacking skills," Schmidt said. "We expect to score more goals than last year."

Individually, Lee is the team's best slide tackler, Dillion is a strong defender and Fruth is a versatile midfielder/forward who is also a good passer, the coach said.

Crabdree is rated as a top-notch goalkeeper and stopper.

"She is strong and aggressive," Schmidt said.

Joining the seniors on the roster will be a solid group of juniors led by Kirsha Wholly, Janet Echols and Bilyk. Wholly, a forward, was the team's leading scorer last season and an all-region choice.

Echols, a star sprinter on the PHS track team, will hold down the wing position this year.

Also on the 35-player roster are Panda Stackhouse and newcomer Hanna Palandri. Stackhouse is rejoining the team after suffering an injury this summer. Palandri is a junior.

In addition to the Lady Horns having a nucleus of veterans, there are several younger players who could contribute to the team cause.

"We have a full junior varsity team where everyone can gain experience and I expect many of the underclassmen to play in varsity games," Schmidt said.

If the team has any voids to fill it could be the loss of sweeper Ciara Wholly, who now plays at Snow College and two defensive players who moved in the summer.

In an effort to replace those athletes, Schmidt is shuffling his lineup.

"Players will be asked to play in positions where they can help the team the most," the coach said. "We want players to be mobile, flexible, opportunistic and know several positions."

In assessing the teams to beat in the East, Schmidt predicts Blue Ridge will be a title favorite.

"They lost 12 seniors (to graduation), but have a strong young program. So, they are always good," he said.

St. Johns, a Class 2A school that is a member of the 3A East region, also could be among the title contenders.

"St. Johns overachieves for a small school and has a lot of returning starters," Schmidt said.

Assisting Schmidt this year are Grant Kepp, Kendra Francis and Kim Wholly.

The Lady Longhorns tip off the season Aug. 28 in a controlled scrimmage at Sedona. Game time is noon.

-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

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