The Lady Longhorns did not have the unique opportunity Dec. 23 to showcase their skills in a newly built $33 million, 6,500-seat basketball arena that is drawing raves as the finest high school facility in the state.
The chance to travel to Chinle to take on the Lady Wildcats in their new home was squashed after the Lady Longhorns came up short on manpower, due to attrition and family holiday vacations.
"We have just eight kids on varsity," said first-year coach Grant Coley.
The game in Chinle will probably not be rescheduled.
The Longhorn boys basketball team traveled to Chinle Dec. 16 and returned to Payson singing the praises of the new Wildcat den.
"It is awesome, first class," coach Chuck Hardt said.
For the Lady Horns, the trip to Chinle would have been the final chance for a tune-up before the Holiday Hoops tournament tips off Dec. 29 in Wilson Dome and the old Payson High School gymnasium.
Without the non-region clash in Chinle, Coley is putting his team through holiday practice paces hoping to have the players fine-tuned and ready to take on Holiday Hoops tournament entries like Desert Mountain, Flagstaff Coconino, Gilbert, Mesa and Tuba City.
"Those are all good teams and we hear Many Farms might be (good) too," Coley said.
Although showing well in the upcoming Hoops classic is a goal, Coley will use the four tournament games in two days to round out his roster and prepare his team for the crucial East region season, which begins Jan. 3 in Holbrook.
Because the varsity has only eight players, Coley will scour the junior varsity roster in search of players who can come off the bench and give the Lady Longhorn cause a much-needed lift.
"We will especially be searching for a sixth (player)," Coley said. "We will let some of the jayvee kids play in the tournament and decide which will stay (on varsity)."
In playing the younger athletes on varsity, however, the coach must walk a fine line, ensuring the fledgling players don't disqualify themselves from jayvee play by appearing in an excess of varsity games. Arizona Interscholastic Association rules dictate how many games prep athletes can play in each season.
"We think they can play about 10 games on both (jayvee and varsity)," Coley said.
Although the Lady Horns obviously need depth, the team does have a solid nucleus of starters that include Rhea Cosay, Jenna Robertson, Cydney Figueroa and Kayla Morgan. The four have seen the bulk of the playing time in early season games.
A huge question mark for the team is sophomore Christina Deaton who was sidelined early with a wrist injury incurred during the volleyball season.
The teen returned to the lineup Dec. 5 to score a team high 14 points in a 66-49 win over the Globe Tigers.
Since that appearance, she has been slowed in practice and games by a flare up of the injury.
"She's been limited," Coley said. "We have to be careful with her (injury)."
If Deaton can return to full form in time for the tournament, the coach will have a rock-solid starting five capable of playing with the 3A's finest teams.
In the fabulous five, the spark plugs have been the one-two punch of Figueroa and Cosay. Both are floor leaders, quality point guards, decent defenders and good scorers.
Coley said he liked to have both on the floor during the first and fourth quarters and wanted at least one of the two in during the entire game.
The Lady Longhorns begin tournament play 10 a.m. Dec. 29 in the dome against Notre Dame. Should Payson emerge victorious, it would return to the court at 5:30 p.m. the same day against the survivor of a Many Farms vs. Estrella Foothills shootout.
If Payson loses the opener, it plays at 4 p.m. in the old gym against the loser of Many Farms vs. Estrella.
Admission is $5 per day for adults and $4 for students. No AIA passes will be accepted.
A concession stand will be open.
All the profits from the tournament benefit the PHS girls basketball program.
"We're hoping for a big turnout, the money is needed," Coley said.
Tournament brackets will be available at the door.
For more information, call (928) 474-2233.