When we last saw the Longhorn soccer team playing in a Payson Invitational tournament, Pioneer Title sponsored the fray, Aaron Loeffler was making a late goal that lifted PHS to a 2-1 win over Snowflake, and the Horns were finishing third.
But that all occurred a year ago.
For 2008, the tournament sponsor is now Roadrunner Rubbish Removal, Loeffler graduated last spring, and the Longhorns have set their sights on better than a bronze medal finish.
The tournament, which is one of the highlights of the Longhorns’ regular season, will be played today, Sept. 26, and tomorrow on two Rumsey Park fields.
A total of 12 teams from around the state will participate. For opening day, the teams are divided into three groups of three teams each.
The Longhorns are aligned in Group B with Chino Valley and Verde Valley.
Group A is comprised of Round Valley, Valley Lutheran and Northland Prep.
Snowflake, St. Michaels and St. Johns are in Group C.
For the second day of the tournament, the teams will be seeded into a single elimination championship bracket.
Action tips off at 8 a.m. and the finals will be played at noon.
The Longhorns’ tournament opening game was at 8 a.m. today on field one against Chino Valley.
“I have matched us up with Chino because they are one of the best teams,” coach Chad Gower said. “But I believe Payson is the best team on the field due to our many resources and who we start and sub.”
The coach is hoping a convincing win over Chino will “really show us where we stand against the top teams in Arizona.”
The Longhorns play again at 10:40 against Verde Valley on field two and then have the remainder of the day off.
For the Horns to reach the title game, the team must play well with and without the ball.
“We have practiced defending and attacking plays lately, hopefully we can use that to our advantage,” Gower said. “We have an amazing team, but it all depends on if our players want to show up and win and make people into believers.”
In addition to Chino and Payson being gold medal contenders, Flagstaff Northland Prep could be in the running for honors.
“They took second at the Show Low tournament tournament opening our eyes to another strong team to beat,” Gower said.
As important as the tournament is to the soccer scheme of things, it is a string of five crucial East Region games over the course of the next month that will determine the Horns’ postseason fate.
That streak tips off Oct. 1 at Rumsey Park against the Round Valley Elks.
Game times are 4 p.m. (jayvee) and 6 p.m.
The final of the five games is set for Oct. 22 in Holbrook.The state playoffs kick off Oct. 31 at the Tempe Sports Complex.