The Lady Longhorns began pursuit of the Holiday Hoops basketball championship at 10 a.m. today, Dec. 28, in Wilson Dome against Flagstaff Coconino.
Winning the tournament title has traditionally been a tough undertaking for the Payson girls who have walked away with the crown only twice in the history of the holiday hardwood shoot-out.
Although defending 2009 champion Glendale Apollo will not participate this year, the chase for the crown might be tougher than in past seasons because the 16-team field features some of the finest schools from around the state, including those from the so-called big school ranks in the Valley and Tucson.
An early favorite to win the championship is Tucson Catalina Foothills who opens at 2:30 p.m. today against a San Carlos team that is a last-minute fill-in for Apollo after the Glendale school dropped out to play in a Nike tournament.
Catalina, off to a 9-0 start this season, is led by Shakyala McEaddy, who is averaging a whopping 22.4 ppg.
Another Tucson team, Sabino, could also be in the hunt for the Holiday Hoops crown. Sabino begins play at 2:30 p.m. today in Julia Randall Elementary gym, against Westwind Prep. The Tucson school’s only loss this year was 42-40 to Sierra Vista. The team, which is led by leading scorer Chelsea Olson, enters Holiday Hoops battle-tested in tournaments, having won the Tombstone shoot-out earlier this month.
With unbeaten Marana (7-0) also in the field, the Payson tournament takes on a decidedly Tucson aura.
Marana brings to the Rim Country one of the tallest and most talented players in Arizona girls prep ranks in 6-foot, 4-inch forward-center Jamee Swan, who leads the team in scoring (16.4 ppg), rebounds (15 per game), steals (4.4) and blocks (3.2).
The Lady Horns
Payson will counter the Tucson schools, and others in the field, with a young team led by Teanna Lopez who scored 16 points in a 51-50 loss to Fountain Hills last week.
As good a scorer as Lopez has proven to be in the early season, it is the health of Chioya Hill that could play a role in the Lady Horns’ tournament fate.
Hill twisted her ankle earlier this season in a Wickenburg tournament and has been battling the nagging injury since.
Coach Kelly Krieg says Hill’s status is day to day.
Point guard Jaymi Carlen is also a valuable weapon in the Lady Horn arsenal, mostly because she can score, rebound, defend and run the offense.
Krieg has praised her often for turning in “solid games.”
Others expected to contribute to the PHS cause are Kayla Perry, Taylor Rizza, Molly Davis and possibly freshman Emee Ashby.
In Ashby’s varsity debut during the Wickenburg tournament, she made a big impression, scoring nine points to lead the team. If the Lady Horns defeat the 1-5 Flagstaff Coconino team this morning, Payson advances to a 5:30 p.m. game today in Wilson Dome against the winner of a Blue Ridge vs. Mesa first-round clash.
A lost to Coconino will send the Lady Horns into a 4 p.m. game today at Julia Randall vs. the loser of BR vs. Mesa.
Tournament action continues tomorrow before wrapping up with the consolation championship at 5 p.m. and the title game at 8 p.m. Both games will be played in the dome.