The Longhorn golf team has returned to the links following a lengthy absence of almost a year and a half.
The long respite occurred because Payson High School moved from the 4A conference to the 3A ranks.
In 4A, golf is a fall sport, which means the last time the Horn golf team played competitively was in November 2004.
In 3A, golf is a spring sport, which teed off just two weeks ago.
Payson High School coach Bret Morse is unsure how the time away from the course will affect his players.
"It's tough to tell whether it helped or hindered our team," he said. "We'll know later when we start playing in the two-day tournaments."
The first of those is on slate for April 7 and 8 at the White Mountain Invitational near Show Low.
The Horns also participate in two-day events at the Safford Invitational (April 20 and 21), the East Regional Championship (April 26 and 27) at Chaparral Pines and the 3A State Tournament (May 9-10) at Aguila.
Until those premier events roll around, the players will continue to hone their skills in one-day tournaments that will give Morse the opportunity to evaluate his players and help them improve their links skills.
In preseason drills, Morse was able to select six varsity regulars from a roster of 16 players.
Varsity team members include Nate Blanco, Bryce Danielson, Robert Gershmann, Nate Jones, Brad Meyocks and Justin Shuman.
In that group, Meyocks, Blanco and Shuman are veteran players expected to shoulder the leadership role.
In the fall of 2004, Meyocks and Blanco earned the right to participate in the Class 4A state tournament by virtue of their top-10 finishes in the Grand Canyon region tournament.
Meyocks was also an All-GCR first team selection in 2004 and Shuman and Blanco were second team honorees. Danielson was named honorable mention.
Meyocks and Shuman are also frequent players on the Junior Golf Association of Arizona circuit.
Shuman has played in the Tucson and Kingman city championships. Meyocks was a seventh place finisher in the 15 to 18 age group at the Four Club Challenge at Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley.
In assessing the veterans and other players, Morse sees consistency as the key to success.
"We have a chance to be very competitive but our top five have to step up and push one another to be good and to improve," he said.
In earlier years, Morse said, the Horns could rely on standouts like Brandon Kelley and Billy Bob Hoyt to turn in stellar scores that carried the team to victory.
The pair led PHS to the state championship in 2001.
This season, however, the squad can't depend one or two stars and will need low scores up and down the lineup to be successful.
Top four to state
Now that the Horns are realigned in the 3A ranks, the players will not be forced to play under the pressure of having to win the region championship to qualify for state as PHS did while in the 4A conference.
In 2004, PHS -- then the defending region champions -- finished as the GCR runner up, 22 strokes off the winning pace of Flagstaff Sinagua.
As silver medalist, the Horns did not advance to state because only the GCR champion qualified for a berth.
In 3A, the top four teams from each of the four geographical regions earn seeds into the state tournament.
"That will certainly be an advantage," Morse said. "We should be in the top four."
After two season-opening matches, the coach anticipates the talent in the East region might be down a bit from past years. But longtime region rivals Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge could be good enough to challenge PHS for the championship.
"Blue Ridge could be a surprise," he said. "They have three juniors who have been on varsity since they were freshmen. Show Low and Snowflake are always contenders."
If the Horns have an advantage in the chase for the East crown it is that the regional tournament will be played on Payson's home course at Chaparral Pines.
"Being familiar with the course is always an advantage," he said.
Opposing East region players will have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Chaparral Pines at a March 22 meet to be held at the course located East of Payson.
On the state level, Morse picks Chandler Seton, Wickenburg and Fountain Hills to be contenders for 3A honors.
As in past years, Payson will again field a junior varsity team to be coached by Morse's father Denny.
Team members include Ryan Koi, Gage Conway, Josh Egbert, Jared Farnsworth, Casey Griffin, Josh Herford, Mitchell Lane, Ryan Schatz, Mark Taylor and Shane Tuer.