Lady Longhorn hopes of taking an advantageous top-four seed into the season-ending East Region tournament could hinge on the outcome of today’s (Jan. 12) game against the visiting Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
The importance of the clash is because both teams could, down the road, be battling for the fourth-place playoff slot behind Alchesay, Round Valley and Snowflake. Those three teams appear to be the front-runners for the East’s gold, silver and bronze medals.
Alchesay (4-1 in the East) left little doubt it was among the region’s top dogs by running rampant, 61-30, Jan. 8 over the Lady Horns. The Falcons also pounded Blue Ridge 66-48 in mid-December.
Although BR (3-1 in the East, 6-7 overall) and the Lady Horns (1-2, 7-8) have not met this season, the two rivals appear evenly matched — at least on paper.
Against Holbrook, a common opponent of the two, Payson lost 69-44 and Blue Ridge was handcuffed 59-41 by the Roadrunners.
Both have also met Northland Prep with BR winning 50-48 and the Lady Horns surviving 38-28.
Individually for Payson, Maddie Nossek has been on a hot streak, which includes scoring a team-high 10 points, corralling 11 rebounds and recording three steals on Jan. 5 in a 44-34 loss to Round Valley.
In Friday’s loss to Alchesay, she led the Lady Horns with 11 points.
During the Winter Classic tournament in Winslow, Nossek had 12 points and eight boards in a 51-35 loss to Williams and in a win over Pinon she had 14 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
In a three-point victory against Show Low in mid-December, Nossek was a monster on the boards, hauling in a team-high nine rebounds. She also scored six points.
Also in that triumph, Jaymi Carlen salted the game away with a goal in the final minute of play. She too has been one of the Lady Horns’ most potent offensive threats, teaming with point guard Rylee Halenar to give the Horns a young but tough and talented backcourt.
“They play really well together,” said coach Kelly Krieg.
Although Ciyola Hill is only a freshman, she’s earned plenty of varsity playing time.
In the loss to Round Valley, she scored six points and had 10 rebounds.
Others who have contributed this season and will be asked to step up during the upcoming stretch run are Kelsey Waugh, Katelyn Curtis, Ciara Romance and Holly West.
Following today’s clash against BR, the Lady Horns host Round Valley Jan. 14 in Wilson Dome.
That game will allow the Lady Horns a second opportunity to see if they can slow Elk superstar Nikki Buck, who is averaging 18.9 ppg.
In Payson’s earlier meeting against RV, Buck stymied the Lady Horns prompting Krieg to deadpan, “She really hurt us.”
Buck has been a thorn in Payson’s side for the past two seasons. Last year in a regular season game, she lit up a very good Lady Longhorn team for 25 points and went on to win all-state honors.
Slowing her will be a monumental task for the Payson “D.”
The East regional tournament begins Feb. 3 at the site of the highest seed and continues Feb. 5 and 6 in Payson.
The state playoffs open Feb. 19 and continue Feb. 20 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The final four teams move Feb. 26 and 27 to Glendale.
A Lady Longhorn team has never reached the state’s final four.