The Lady Longhorn soccer team finished with a sister kisser in the Show Low Cougar Invitational.
During the fray played Sept. 11 and 12 at SLHS, Payson smooched its way to a pair of wins, but also came up a bit short in two other games.
On opening day, Payson lost 1-0 to Desert Christian, the team that edged the Lady Horns last season in the opening round of the state tournament.
Later that evening, Payson blitzed Holbrook 4-0.
On the second day, the Lady Longhorns opened with an 8-0 loss to Class 4A Kirkland, N.M.
Payson quickly rebounded to whip River Valley 4-0.
Following the fray in the White Mountains, coaches selected Kayla Francis to the all-tournament team.
“She stopped the other teams’ forwards repeatedly in one-on-one situations as the last defender,” coach Joe Schmidt said.
The coach also praised other team members saying, “Many players had their first goals or assists and played their best games of the season.”
The tournament also gave the coach the opportunity to access some of the teams Payson must beat to return to the state tournament when it begins Oct. 30.
He’s picking Blue Ridge, Show Low, St. Johns and Snowflake as the teams to beat in the region title chase.
The SL tournament game against Desert Christian was an emotional skirmish considering the nail-biting, overtime battle the two teams waged last season in the state tournament.
“The team played with a high level of intensity the entire game,” Schmidt said.
Although the Lady Horns played well, the offense sputtered and stalled.
“We had 20-plus shots on goal but couldn’t put one away,” Schmidt said.
For the game, the coach singled out Francis for her excellent defensive efforts and Marissa Garcia for her determined play as goalie.
In the win over Holbrook, midfielder Becca Branstetter had two goals and Kendel Lann and Blanca Valdez tallied one each.
Lann scored on a nifty clean shot from the 18-yard line.
“There was a lot of good passing and lots of experience gained,” Schmidt said. “I was able to play every girl on the team.”
Schmidt called the River Valley victory “our best game of the tournament.”
It was particularly pleasing for the coach because he might have found just the right offensive combination after rotating players around most of the early season.
A change that helped spark the offense was moving Natalie Black back to her original position as goalie and sending Garcia to play midfield.
“The midfield distributed the ball well and switched from offense to defense and back very efficiently,” Schmidt said.
Branstetter finished with a hat trick scoring three goals.
Saran Anderson tallied her first goal of the year.
Schmidt also praised Taylor Wood for “doing a good job of marking and denying River Valley’s best scorer.”
The Lady Horns return to action tomorrow, Sept. 19, in Springerville-Eagar against Round Valley. Game times are noon (jayvee) and 2 p.m. (varsity).