Preseason Practices Begin For Spring Sports

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Preseason practices for Payson High School track and field, baseball, softball and golf teams tipped off Feb. 6 without players who are members of the basketball and wrestling squads.

The basketball players will report for spring sports at the conclusion of the Horns runs through the state tournament that begins today, Tuesday, in Flagstaff.

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The Payson High School golf team will return to the 5A conference this year after a foray in the 4A ranks.

The wrestlers can report for spring sports this week since the mat campaign wrapped up Feb. 11 at the state tournament in Glendale.

For the Longhorn golfers, the return to the links was a long time coming.

The last time the team participated in a match or tournament was in the fall of 2004.

The long span between seasons is due to the two years Payson High was a member of the Class 4A Grand Canyon Region, where golf is played in the fall.

Now that PHS has departed the 4A ranks and has returned to the 3A East Region, golf is played in the spring season.

Morse is among those at PHS welcoming the school's return to the 3A conference.

Morse believes that playing in the small school division the next two years will be good for fledgling golfers because they can receive better match-time coaching to perfect their skills and increase their knowledge of the game.

"The 4A is far inferior (to the 3A conference) in course etiquette and knowing the rules (of the game)," Morse said.

Morse said the reason 3A is a better conference, at least for golf, is because coaches are allowed to walk the course with their players to give hints, instruction and advice.

"We can be with them from tee to green and coach them on club selection and course management," Morse said.

In the 4A conference, coaches cannot talk to the players once they have teed off. Most coaches simply play the course during match time.

"Coaching in 4A was not real fun for me" Morse said. "If you can't talk to your players, not much coaching is going on and that's what we are there for."

Morse said those limitations helped produce a number of 4A prep golfers who are not fundamentally sound and not familiar with the etiquette of the game.

"That's why I'm looking forward to 3A," Morse said.

Other spring sports

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Track and field, baseball, golf and softball all start practice this week.

In softball, Curtice Johnson takes over the coaching reins, replacing Will Dunman who resigned last summer to devote full time to his new position as the Payson Elementary School principal.

Chuck Crabdree will assist Johnson with the varsity program.

In taking over the team, Johnson has lauded a core of players -- Hilary Armenta, Candice Johnson, Hannah Armenta, Tamara Crabdree and Sara Cadd -- who spent the off-season playing club ball.

"Their level of dedication to the game of softball should prove invaluable for the upcoming high school season," the coach said. "The 3A East division has always been very competitive in softball, and with these players' leadership, Payson should be in the thick of the race."

In baseball, coach Jerry Daniels began the season hoping for better treatment from the 3A conference than the Longhorns received last year from 4A coaches and officials.

After seniors Darren Daniels and Kyle Sachak earned all-region mention at the conclusion of the 2005 campaign, the coach said, "We are leaving the (4A) conference next year so they were not too concerned with us.

"We finished with the same record (4-8 in the region, 11-18 overall) as Page and they got three first team (members), three second team and one honorable mention."

Daniels' ire escalated when Grand Canyon Region officials failed to forward the two players' awards after the season-ending award banquet, and then only at the urging of himself and school administrators.

If Daniels has an ace-in-the-hole this season, it might be junior Jason Sweet who has been playing Valley-area club ball well enough to catch the eye of Gilbert head coach Matt Gutierrez.

"He's a good one," the Tiger coach said.

Last season, Sweet batted .349 and hit four doubles that tied him for the league lead.

As a pitcher, Sweet suffered through a hard-luck year in which he led the team in innings pitched but received little run support and defense. He finished with a 1-6 record.

In track and field, Chuck Hardt will be coaching his third consecutive varsity sport this season, which translates into a lot of long bus rides on those hard-seated yellow buses designed mostly for short, before-and-after school runs carrying elementary-age students.

The good news for Hardt is that he has a stable of high quality coaches to assist him.

Among them are Chuck Yale, Bo Althoff, Kim Rhoades, Pete Greer, Dan Sweitzer, Jeremy Hoff and Katie Hoff.

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