A new coach is on deck to guide the Lady Longhorns into the 2006 spring campaign.
Curtis Johnson assumed the coaching reins last spring after Will Dunman resigned to take over as Payson Elementary School principal.
Following his appointment, Dunman said he wanted to focus full time on his new job and would be stepping down.
During his six-year tenure, Dunman led the team to five top-four region finishes and berths in the state tournament.
Dunman and Johnson are no strangers to one another. The two co-coached club teams including the 14-years-and-under 2004 Wildfire that featured several players now on the PHS varsity.
Although Johnson hasn't inherited an entirely empty cupboard from the former coach, he will open the season without the services of three All-Grand Canyon Region players who graduated last spring.
Gone are Jessica Coleman, Morgan O'Haver and Katie Plumb.
Coleman was a 2005 GCR first team infielder, O'Haver a second team pitcher and Plumb an honorable mention utility player.
The talented trio will certainly be missed but Johnson has several veterans returning to build his new team upon. They include sisters Hilary and Hannah Armenta, Tiffany Klemstein and the coach's daughter, Candice Johnson.
The Armenta sisters have proven to be one of the best one-two hitting punches in Arizona prep softball.
In 2005, Hannah Armenta, then a freshman, swatted a school record of seven home runs.
Several were booming blasts that easily cleared outfield fences.
Hilary Armenta was one of the team's best hitters and second to her younger sister in home runs with three.
Hilary is predicting that this year the Lady Horns will sport even more firepower than they did last season.
"We have some more (players) that can hit them over the fence," she said.
In addition to Hilary's offensive skills, she has built a reputation as one of the finest catchers in the conference. Her expert handling of pitchers and the ability to corral pitches out of the strike zone renders her an invaluable cog in the Lady Horn defense.
Among the pitchers she'll handle this season are Klemstein and Johnson.
In 2005 as a freshman, Johnson picked up invaluable varsity experience as the second line pitcher behind O'Haver.
Johnson's pitching helped propel the 2005 Lady Horns to a Grand Canyon Region second place finish and a berth in the 4A state tournament.
Klemstein also acquired varsity experience last season pitching mostly in relief but against some of the 4A conference's finest teams.
Both Johnson and Klemstein have good velocity and control in their assorted offerings of pitches.
Others on the Lady Horn roster -- which has yet to be finalized -- are Molly Agnes, Ashley Anesin, Sarah Cadd, Tamara Crabdree, Aubrey Laird, Hannah Palandri and Kayce Pugel.
In mid-week, the coach was also allowing several Lady Horn basketball players to try out since they could not participate when normal tryouts were held weeks ago.
The two Armenta girls, Candice Johnson, Cadd and Crabdree head into the season with the advantage of having competed almost non-stop on valley-area club teams since the high school season wrapped up in May 2005.
Hannah Armenta and Candice Johnson competed on The Storm 16-years-and-under team, Hilary played for The Storm 18-years squad, Crabdree held down a spot on the Little Saints 18-years crew and Cadd was on the Xtreme 16-years-and-under roster.
The group's decision to devote all their energies to softball drew praise from coach Johnson.
"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."
The season kicks off for the Lady Horns March 3 and 4 at the Wickenburg tournament.
The team does not make its home debut until March 14 against the visiting Holbrook Roadrunners.