Longhorns Spring Sports Starting Up

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Think bright sunny days and warm weather.

They're needed because the spring sports season is about to get under way at Payson High School.

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Dylan Boyd warms up at the beginning of baseball practice.

Will Dunman's Lady Longhorn softball team is the first of the four spring sports to play when it travels Feb. 25 to take on Holbrook.

On Feb. 28, the baseball team journeys to near Bullhead City and Laughlin, Nev. where it is entered in the Mohave Valley Tournament. Also on that day, both the junior varsity and varsity golf teams will be in Snowflake for a season-opening meet involving all six-3A East links squads.

The track and field team, under first year coach Ian Harvey, opens the campaign Feb. 29 at Queen Creek.

Building on the past

The Lady Horn softball team will be out to improve on last spring's showing, in which the team tied Snowflake for East region runner-up honors. In a coin flip for state seeding, Payson lost and was relegated to No. 3 in the tournament. The Lady Horns opened state with a win over Tuba City but was eliminated, 5-1 by Wickenburg in the Sweet 16.

The 2007 baseball team also qualified for the 3A state tournament and opened at Maryvale Ball Park against the Winslow Bulldogs.

Despite a Herculean effort from senior pitcher Jacob Willis, the Horns fell to the coach Art Griffith's Dogs, 9-6.

Ironically, the next time the Horns returned to the field, which was Feb. 20 on the PHS diamond, it was against the Winslow Bulldogs.

The clash was a preseason controlled scrimmage in which no score was kept.

PHS coach Jerry Daniels' task this year is to find replacements for his top two pitchers, Jason Sweet and Willis, who graduated last spring.

Sweet now pitches for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

Possible replacements for the departed two include Hunter Haynes, Anthony Pearce, Tyler Savage or Nick Herring.

In golf, coach Bret Morse faces a challenge similar to that of Daniels in that he will scour the lineup to find a replacement for a varsity veteran lost to graduation.

Last spring as a senior, Bryce Danielson shouldered the Longhorn load at the Class 3A State Golf Tournament, finishing 11th overall in a field of 80 qualifiers.

As a junior, Danielson was 27th at the state meet.

In 2004, when Payson was a member of the Class 4A Grand Canyon region, Danielson earned all-region honorable mention honors at the final tournament.

Danielson's efforts as a senior propelled the Longhorns to seventh-place overall in the 17-team field. The Horns posted a 693, which was the second-best score turned in by an East region team. Show Low finished fifth, with a 661.

In addition to losing Danielson to graduation, Austin Slapnicka and Shane Tuer also graduated.

If Morse can uncover talent to replace the departed veterans, the Horns could again be a force to reckon with in the East and at state.

New track coach

In track and field, the question on most fans' minds is how the team will fare without longtime coach Chuck Hardt at the helm of the program.

Ian Harvey, formerly of Show Low, replaces Hardt, who retired last year but continues to teach PE at Payson High.

Hardt has won countless Coach of the Year titles and filling his shoes will be a tough chore for Harvey, who is young but enthusiastic.

The new coach also takes over following one of the most exciting seasons in PHS boys track history.

At the 2007 3A state meet, a pair of East teams -- Snowflake and Lakeside Blue Ridge -- tied for first with 74 points each.

The two narrowly beat the defending state champion Longhorns, who were third with 72 points. A week earlier in the East region championships in Snowflake, Payson handily whipped both the Lobos and Yellow Jackets on the way to the Horns' third region title in four years.

At state, however, the Longhorns couldn't muster the crucial few points the team needed to win its second successive state title.

The narrow loss didn't set well with senior team members including Carlen Pontious, Carlos Lopez and Morgan Cassuto.

"They were upset. They wanted to go out as champions," Hardt said.

The Lady Longhorn track team will return to competition, armed with a teen who last season quickly molded herself into a freshman phenom.

Maddie Nossek, a rookie competing mostly against upperclassmen more seasoned than her, leaped 16 feet, 8 inches, to win the Arizona state long jump championship.

Nossek's leap was well off the school record of 18 feet, 5 inches, but with three years of eligibility remaining, she obviously has the potential to someday set a new Lady Horn mark.

Nossek's gold medal was one of only two the PHS team won at state.

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