The Holiday Hoops girls’ basketball tournament got off to a rip-roaring start yesterday morning, Dec. 28, in both Wilson Dome and old Payson High School gymnasium.
The field included 16 teams from around the state, including several from the “big school” 4A and 5A ranks.
Participating as a referee was former longtime Payson High School baseball coach and teacher Teddy Pettet, who now resides in Idaho.
Pettet said he returned to his hometown to visit family and friends and was persuaded into officiating, which he has done for more than two decades.
The Lady Longhorns opened the tournament with a first-round game in Wilson Dome against Class 5A Mesa High.
In the early going, the Jackrabbits’ swarming 1-2-2 zone press overwhelmed the Lady Horns, but Payson rallied in the second half to lose only by a 45-34 count.
With the press taking its toll on PHS in the early minutes, Mesa built a 5-0 lead with 6:34 remaining and later expanded it to 12-0.
It took the Lady Horns almost five full minutes before they were able to break the stifling Rabbit press.
With 2:15 remaining, Payson scored on a single free throw and a put back to close the count to 12-3, which was the tally at the end of the first quarter.
When the score reached 18-5, Mesa coach Keri Schaufelberger called off the press, giving the Lady Horns some breathing room.
Although Payson trailed 25-10 at the half and appeared to be dead in the water, the team returned from the locker room with a newfound vigor to make a game out of what once was a lopsided clash.
For the Lady Horns, Jaymi Carlen and Ciara Romance finished with five points. Freshman Chioya Hill had four. Feisty Rylee Halenar showed good hustle in scoring three points, all of which came from the free throw line.
First-time tournament director Jadyn Walden, who helped re-invigorate the tournament, drawing 16 teams rather than the eight it attracted last year, called yesterday’s play completely successful.
“Everything is going good, everyone seems to be happy,” she said. “Actually, we almost had 17 teams here, but finally worked it out to have 16.”
For the tournament, Walden solicited the services of her older sister to run the concession stand and snack bar.
In attendance at Payson games were several alumni home from college during their schools’ holiday break.
The championship of the game is scheduled for 8 p.m. today, Dec. 29, in the dome. The consolation will be played at 5 p.m. today in the dome.