The Holiday Hoops girls basketball tournament will return to its former glory Dec. 28 and Dec. 29 when 16 teams from around the state gather in Wilson Dome and the old PHS gymnasium to battle for honors.
Since the inception of the tournament in the mid 1990s, it was a 16-game fray and played during the holidays, always following Christmas. But last year, only an abbreviated tournament was held, and the dates were moved to Dec. 12 and Dec. 13 to allow then-coach Stacy Anderson to be out of state with her family during the holidays.
This year, PHS alum and assistant volleyball coach Jadyn Walden took over as tournament director and, along with first-year coach Kelly Krieg, returned the tournament to the traditional dates.
For a short while, it appeared Holiday Hoops would have only 15 teams as Walden struggled to fill the brackets. Just a few weeks ago, however, Blue Ridge agreed to participate, making a full field.
Former Lady Longhorn coaches have praised the tournament because it allows PHS players to square off against teams they might not compete against during the course of the regular season, including big-school squads.
Among the 4A and 5A schools entered this year are Mesa, Apollo, Flagstaff Coconino, Mesa Westwood, Marana, Yuma Kofa and Tucson Catalina.
There are also private and parochial schools entered, including Immaculate Heart, Northland Prep and Westwind Prep.
The only East region teams are Payson and Blue Ridge, which gives the fray a statewide flavor.
The Lady Horns begin their pursuit of the tournament title at 10 a.m. on opening day against Mesa High.
Although Mesa is a Class 5A Division 1 school, the Jackrabbits have struggled out to a 3-7 record.
The team, however, has three legitimate offensive threats in Ashlyn Biggs (7.7 ppg), Amandi Keil (6.8 ppg) and Aubrey Whitmer (6.2 ppg).
If Payson wins vs. Mesa, the team would play again that day at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of the Apollo vs. Coconino first-round clash. If the Lady Horns lose to Mesa, they would play at 4 p.m. the same day in old PHS gymnasium against the Apollo vs. Coco loser.
The championship game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Dec. 29 in the dome.
The consolation will be played at 5 p.m. that same day in the dome.
Lady Horns struggle in Winslow
The Lady Horns enter Holiday Hoops with tournament experience gained Dec. 17 to Dec.19 at the Winslow Invitational.
In the windy city, the Lady Horns finished 1-3 whipping only Pinon, 49-41.
Payson’s losses were to Sedona Red Rock, 50-25; Hopi, 54-26; and Williams (no score available).
“We are looking forward to playing better basketball at Holiday Hoops,” Krieg said.
In the loss to Red Rock, it was freshman Chioya Hill who led the team, with eight points and four rebounds.
Against Williams, which Krieg says was a defeat by 20 points, Maddie Nossek had 12 points and eight boards. Jaymi Carlen contributed 10 points and four rebounds.
Nossek and Carlen also paced the Lady Horns against Pinon and Hopi.
Nossek was on top of her game vs. Pinon, with 14 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Against Hopi, she dominated on the boards, hauling in 13 rebounds to go along with her 10 points.
Carlen had eight points, eight rebounds and two steals in the win over Pinon. Against Hopi, she chipped in with six points and three rebounds.
Kelsey Waugh turned in a good effort vs. Pinon, with nine points and six rebounds.