Following two days of almost constant hardwood wars in Wilson Dome and old Payson High School gymnasium, Dec. 28 and 29, the 16-team Holiday Hoops tournament wrapped up with a championship showdown in which Glendale Apollo High School overwhelmed Williams Field, 59-43.
As stirring as most of the games were, the real story of the tournament was its return to the prominence it once boasted thanks to the efforts of Jadyn Walden and Kelly Krieg.
Last fall, the two began a campaign to return the tournament to the post-Christmas dates it formerly had before being moved last year to early December.
Walden and Krieg also were able to attract a full field of 16 teams, which traditionally participated until last season when it was reduced to eight teams.
Walden, a former Lady Longhorn basketball player who this year served as tournament director, said one of the reasons for Holiday Hoops re-invention was because, “I wanted it to be like it was when I was in high school.”
She remembers Holiday Hoops as being a classic shootout that high school players, coaches and fans looked forward to.
“It was a part of the holiday celebration,” she said.
Krieg, Payson High’s first-year coach, lauded Walden for her help, “She did a great job of coordinating everything.”
About the only glitch occurred on opening day in a game between Mesa and Salt River.
In it, a Mesa player was knocked to the ground and claimed an opponent kicked her.
That set off a firestorm of protest in which the Mesa coach wanted to withdraw from the tournament.
PHS assistant principal Tim Fruth, a longtime high school basketball official, arrived on the scene to help remedy the dispute. He made a call to AIA officials to ask if a team could withdraw and was told it was permissible.
However, by the time the call ended, the dispute had been resolved and play continued.
The Lady Horns finished tournament play with a 2-2 record in 13th place overall.
PHS opened with a 45-34 loss to Mesa and, in the second round, fell 39-34 to Flagstaff Coconino. The Lady Horns rebounded on the second day to defeat Westwind Prep, 55-25 and Northland Prep, 46-36.
The final win turned into the Maddie Nossek story as she finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three steals.
Nossek’s efforts throughout the fray earned her a much-coveted spot on the all-tournament team.
Also against Northland, Kelsey Waugh was dead on from long distance, sinking a trio of three-pointers and finishing with 13 points and five rebounds.
Jaymi Carlen had eight points, five rebounds and two steals.
Krieg also praised junior point guard Rylee Halenar saying, “She had a good floor game with four assists and five steals.”
Defensively, Kreig lauded the team’s play, saying she was happy with the efforts expended.
Roadrunners run wild
Following the Holiday Hoops, the Lady Horns returned to Wilson Dome Jan. 2 for a make-up game against Holbrook, which had originally been scheduled for Dec. 7, but was postponed due to snow and hazardous conditions on SR 260.
Holbrook brought to the dome a seasoned team that many expect to contend for the North region title and the 3A state championship
After watching her charges get thumped 69-44, Kreig praised the Roadrunners saying, “They are a very good basketball team and shot extremely well in the second half.”
Nossek again paced Payson with 16 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Chioya Hill, Halenar and Carlen contributed six points each. Halenar also had four assists and three steals.
Next up for Kreig and the Lady Horns is one of the most exhausting stretches that a prep basketball team can take on.
The stretch includes trips today, Jan. 5, to Round Valley High School and on Jan. 8 to Whiteriver to play Alchesay.
“Those, coupled with five games the following week makes for a grind, but a fun challenge to see where we are at,” Krieg said.