The Lady Longhorns could be without the services of a trio of their finest players during the five crucial games remaining on the regular season schedule.
Among the MIAs could be Maddie Nossek, Rylee Halenar and Jaymi Carlen.
Nossek — Payson’s leading scorer and the cog that makes the offense and defense click — sprained her ankle during warm-up exercises prior to a Jan. 19 game against Fountain Hills.
Halenar, the team’s starting point guard and the Lady Horn spark plug, is ill and also missed the Fountain Hills game.
Carlen has a hairline fracture in her ankle and is “still a week or two away from a return,” coach Kelly Krieg said.
Although having a top-notch threesome sidelined for the most critical stretch in the season’s schedule is a huge blow, Krieg remains upbeat.
“We are just going to keep our heads up and do the best we can,” she said.
Having Nossek out also means less strategy planning for opponents who have grown weary of her scoring, rebounding and hustle.
“Teams have really been keying on stopping her,” Krieg said.
Without her in the lineup against Fountain Hills, the Lady Horns lost 52-30.
“Fountain Hills has a very nice team and is one of the best we have played,” Krieg said.
In Nossek’s absence, freshman Chioya Hill stepped up to lead the team in scoring with 12 points.
“She has really started to play well, and we are excited about her potential to become a very good basketball player,” Krieg said.
The coach also lauded Kayla Perry, another freshman, for her efforts.
Perry opened the season on the junior varsity roster, but was moved up to the varsity to fill in for the injured players.
Although there is less than a week remaining in the season, the fate of the six East region teams is far from decided.
The uncertainty on the Payson front is because five games, two of them makeup clashes, have to be played before the regional tournament tips off.
Which means the Lady Horns can do themselves a huge favor by winning as many as possible and moving up in the standings from the tie for third place where they now are positioned.
The higher the finish PHS can attain, the better the seed into the East tournament.
The Lady Horns sport 3-4 credentials, as do the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
Snowflake and Alchesay are both 5-1 and tied for first. Round Valley is 4-3 and in second place.
Show Low trails with a 0-7 East mark.
Individually around the league, Alchesay’s Maria Lupe and Nikki Buck are dominating play, just as they did last season.
In fact, Lupe — who is averaging 19.4 ppg — has been a thorn in the Lady Horns’ side for the past four years.
Avid fans remember Lupe, as a sophomore, leading the 2008 Falcons to a 48-42 upset of the then state-ranked Lady Longhorn team that featured some of PHS’s finest-ever players, including all-stars Kayla Morgan, Christina Deaton and Cydney Figueroa.
Today, Lupe is widely considered one of the finest all-around players to don an East region team uniform in the last decade.
Buck, an all-stater last year, is averaging 17.9 ppg and leads the East in rebounding with an average of seven per game. She is also one of the region’s finest free throw shooters, having sunk 86 of her 145 attempts
Nossek averages 11.5 ppg and is third in the East in scoring. She is also third in rebounding, with an average of 6.9 retrieves per game.