The Lady Longhorn basketball team lost one ace but picked up another.
The departed senior, Tori Wilbanks, did not turn out for the team when preseason practices began two weeks ago, saying she was going to concentrate on playing club volleyball.
Last season, Wilbanks was an All-East region first team selection and Payson's leading scorer (11.4 ppg) and rebounder (9.8 per game).
But the loss of Wilbanks could be eased a bit by the arrival of Rhea Cosay, who last summer transferred to PHS from Alchesay.
Like Wilbanks, Cosay was an All-East first team selection during the 2005-2006 season.
First-year Lady Horn coach Grant Coley projects Cosay will be the starting point guard this season.
Along with Cosay's ball handling and scoring, the Lady Horns will benefit from two sophomores -- Christina Deaton and Cydney Figueroa -- who last season earned all-region honorable mention accolades.
Deaton, however, will be sidelined for the next three to four weeks with a hand injury suffered during the volleyball season.
Last season, Deaton appeared in only 24 of the team's 33 games because of an injury.
When she was available, she was a force, averaging 9.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Figueroa played in all 33 games averaging 4.6 points and two rebounds per game.
When Deaton returns, she and Figueroa will give the Lady Horns a pair of the most talented sophomores in the region.
Figueroa is expected to start at the two-guard slot and Deaton will play in the low post when she returns.
As good as Deaton was offensively last year, she was also the team's defensive leader with 46 blocked shots.
Another able defender, Kayla Morgan --formerly Kayla O'Donnell -- could be a starter at one of the post positions when the Lady Horns open the new season Nov. 22 in Wilson Dome against Fountain Hills.
Jenna Robertson, a sophomore who blossomed during the volleyball campaign, could also get a starting nod from Coley.
The coach also expects Marquel Waterman to battle for playing time.
Others in the mix for court time are Lana Cluff, Janae Blalock, Brittany McDaniel, Rose Hardt, Bailey Randall and Shauna Davis.
For Coley, who last year was the Rim Country Middle School girls coach, the keys to molding a competitive team and carrying on the success of former coach Rory Huff will be to instill hustle and discipline in the players.
"If they do those things, they can be successful," he said.
Coley also believes that every player should receive equal opportunity within the framework of the program and the offense and defense should fit the skills of his players.
"Some coaches try to fit their kids into a certain way of doing things. I don't do that," he said. "Everything I do depends on the type of kids I have."
For example, if his current crop of players are blessed with good speed, he'll use a fast break offense.
"Last year (at RCMS), we were fast, so we ran," he said. "If they aren't (fast), we'll play half-court."
The defensive scheme he'll install will also depend on the strengths of individual players.
"(The defense) could be man (to man), zone or a mix," he said.
Coley is convinced he has assembled a staff of coaches who have the ability, experience and desire to lift players to new heights.
"It's a great group we have, they are going to do good things with these girls," he said.
David Blalock will head the junior varsity program and Scott Nossek will serve as the freshman coach.
Margin Bowden and Stacy Anderson will assist on the varsity level and Katy Bowden with the underclassmen, Coley said.
Prior to Coley coaching at RCMS last season, he coached various levels in girls programs at Sunnyslope, Dysart, Apollo and Arcadia high schools.
The new coach said he retired to Payson a couple of years ago, after a long career as a Farmers Insurance agent.
In Payson, he decided he wanted to continue his coaching career.
"I enjoy coaching girls and decided to keep going," he said.
Coley said he is unsure of which teams will be favorites to win the East title, but expects the battles for state tournament berths to be a dogfight.
Snowflake, Blue Ridge, Alchesay, Round Valley and Show Low are expected to be competitive. Holbrook is a bit of an unknown, as is Payson, because of its youth and loss of Wilbanks.
"We are a young team and might not know until January how good we are," Coley said.