A pair of hard-earned East victories have propelled the once-floundering Lady Longhorns back into the region title chase.
The pulsating wins — which occurred Jan. 12 by a 36-34 margin over Show Low and a day later 41-39 against Blue Ridge — improved the Lady Horns’ record to 3-2 in the East and 8-9 overall.
Currently, Payson is tied for second place with Round Valley behind league-leading Alchesay (4-1 and 9-6).
The win in Show Low was a make-up game originally scheduled for Dec. 8, but postponed due to snow and rain that rendered travel on SR 260 too hazardous for school buses.
In the victory, Maddie Nossek paced the team offensively and on the boards with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Jordan Klabbatz also shined, posting six points and six rebounds.
Coach Kelly Krieg, who had seen her team lose consecutive road games to Round Valley and Alchesay, expressed her relief at having the streak broken, “It was nice to get a win on the road.”
On Tuesday evening in Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns treated their fans to one of the most thrilling games they’ve witnessed this season.
In the seesaw affair, Payson survived by two points over Blue Ridge, thanks to freshman Chioya Hill’s clutch free throws in the final going, and a couple of Yellow Jacket turnovers.
As Nossek has done most of the season, she turned in a stellar all-around performance with a game-high 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Madelyn is consistently one of the best players on the floor each night,” Krieg said. “Her athletic ability is unmatched, and she plays hard every second of the game.”
Hill was also a valuable weapon in the Lady Longhorn arsenal. She finished with eight points, which included the crucial free throws, three steals and three rebounds.
In the paint, Holly West and Klabbatz flexed their collective muscle scoring and defending.
“They were both active inside,” said Krieg.
Klabbatz scored only one point, but corralled seven rebounds and had two steals. West snatched six boards to go along with her six points.
For the season
Individually, Nossek is currently Payson’s only double-digit scorer, averaging 10.8 points per game. She’s also the team’s leading rebounder with 111 retrieves, or an average of 7.9 per game.
Defensively, she has 27 steals, which is second on the team behind Rylee Halenar, who has 40.
If Nossek continues to play with the same prowess shown this season, she’ll undoubtedly be a strong candidate for the All-East region team and possibly all-state.
Also for the Lady Horns, Kelsey Waugh is averaging 6.8 ppg and has 32 rebounds and six steals. Jaymi Carlen scores at a 6.1 ppg game clip. She also has 43 rebounds, 16 steals and two blocks.
Halenar, the starting point guard, is far and away the team’s floor general, as evidenced by her team-high 24 assists.
Kreig has lauded the backcourt play of Halenar and Carlen, saying the two form a cohesive pair of guards at both ends of the floor.
Although Hill opened the season as an untested freshman, she’s preformed well, especially on the boards with her 63 rebounds, which is second on the team to Nossek.
The rookie also sports a 4.3 ppg scoring average.
The Lady Horns travel today, Jan. 15, to Snowflake in search of a third consecutive road win. If the girls can emerge victorious, it would solidify their hold on second place with three East games remaining in the regular season.
A second-place finish would mean an advantageous seed into the regional tournament when it begins Feb. 3 and wraps up Feb. 5 and 6 in Wilson Dome.