Will the return of senior point guard Rhea Cosay to the starting lineup be the boost the Lady Longhorns need to win the East region tournament and advance to state as a No. 1 seed?
That query will be answered today and Saturday in the East tournament to be played in Snowflake.
With Cosay in the lineup for the first 21 games of the season, the Lady Horns appeared to be a legitimate state championship contender.
At one point, late in the season, the Lady Horns (20-5) appeared to have the East regular season title wrapped up.
But after Cosay was suspended for the final four games of the campaign due to an off-the-court incident, the Lady Horns stumbled to a 2-2 record, losing crucial East games to both Round Valley and Alchesay.
The two late-season defeats dropped Payson into a tie for the region championship with the Round Valley Lady Elks. Both teams finished with 9-3 East records and were declared regular season co-champions.
Because of the tie, a coin flip was held Feb. 5 in Wilson Dome just minutes after the Lady Horns lost the regular season finale 49-41 to Alchesay.
By calling "tails," at the request of team members, the Lady Horns won the flip and earned the right to take the top seed into the region tournament.
The Lady Horns will play at 5:30 p.m. in Snowflake High School gymnasium against the winner of an earlier game pitting No. 5 Snowflake against No. 4 Holbrook.
If Cosay returns to the Payson lineup today as expected, she will do so as the East region assist leader with 119. She is also second in steals with 103 and is the Lady Horns leading scorer with a 13.4 points per game average.
Although Cosay's absence obviously slowed the Lady Horn attack, several of her teammates stepped up to fill the void. In the loss to Alchesay, sophomore guard Cydney Figueroa finished with 16 points that included nine-of-10 free throws. Figueroa also excelled defensively, recording five of the team's eight steals. Kayla Morgan tallied 14 points and Jenna Robertson corralled a game high 13 rebounds. Christina Deaton was also a factor with nine points, three rebounds, two blocks and an assist.
On to state
If Payson emerges victorious today, the team would advance to the East title game tomorrow, Saturday, at 5:30 p.m.
A loss today would drop the Lady Horns into a battle for third or fourth place at noon tomorrow.
Whichever berth the Lady Horns take to state, first through fourth, the quest for the school's first girls state basketball championship begins Feb. 13 and 14 in Flagstaff. The state showdown culminates Feb. 24 at Glendale Arena with the crowning of the 3A state champion.