The 18-team Payson Invitational, the highlight of the Lady Longhorns' regular season schedule, has drawn five new teams.
They include Round Valley, Globe, Chinle, Caesar Chavez and Flagstaff.
Of those teams, the most formidable might be the Flagstaff Eagles who return several stalwarts from a team that last year played its way to the second round of the 4A state tournament.
PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink is predicting strong showings from teams representing Safford, Window Rock, Ganado and Blue Ridge.
In 2007, Blue Ridge and Window Rock played into the second round of the state tournament and Safford and Ganado reached the final four.
For the Payson Invitational, Flagstaff is aligned in the tournament's black pool with Payson. Also in it are Wickenburg, Sedona, Chinle and Joseph City.
There are also six teams in the purple pool and six in the gold.
Pool play tips off at 9 a.m., Sept. 5 and wraps up that same day at 4 p.m.
After a coaches meeting, the teams meet that evening, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in cross-pool play. In it, the results of the earlier games will be used to seed the teams against one another.
For example, the No. 1 finisher in the purple pool will play the champion of the black pool, the No. 6 team in the gold pool plays the last-place finisher in the black pool and so on.
The following day, all the teams meet in a double-elimination championship tournament.
In pool play, Payson plays at 9 a.m. (vs. Joseph City), 11 a.m. (vs. Chinle), noon (vs. Sedona), 1 p.m. (vs. Flagstaff) and 3 p.m. (vs. Flagstaff).
"I arranged the pools to where our last three games should be in front of student fans," coach Arnold Stonebrink said. He was referring to the Sedona and Flagstaff games, which will be played during, school lunch hours and the Wickenburg clash is set for a student body assembly.
All tournament games will be played on two courts in Wilson Dome and one in old PHS gymnasium.
Jackets, Lady Horns collide
Last year, the tournament turned out to be a shootout between East region rivals Blue Ridge and Payson.
Ironically, the two met three times during the two days with the Yellow Jackets claiming a 2-1 advantage over PHS.
BR went on to finish as tournament runner-up and the Lady Horns were third.
"We're looking to improve on last year's finish," Stonebrink said. "The girls have looked a little flat in practices but we've been working on tweaking the offenses and doing some new wrinkles, so that may have been the culprit."
Also tops on the practice agenda has been tweaking techniques and improving aggressiveness, especially among the hitters.
"We are very much hoping all the hard work pays off," Stonebrink said.
Individually, senior Jenna Robertson could be one of the finest players in the 3A conference.
"I expect her to have a superb season," Stonebrink said. "She will be in her third season on varsity manning the middle hitter position."
With Robertson manning the middle of the Lady Horn offense and defense, other teams have had a strategy to "gang up on Jenna," Stonebrink said.
In an effort to counter that plan, the coach is calling upon her teammates to improve their efforts.
"I'm excited to see who will step up in that regard," Stonebrink said.
There is no admission to the tournament.