The real season, the one for all the marbles, begins today, Nov. 5, for the Payson High School volleyball team.
For the football team the so-called real season kicks off tomorrow, Nov. 6.
They are the 3A Arizona state tournaments and the format is the very challenging, “lose one and go home.”
Which means the tournament openers are crucial to both teams’ hopes of returning to Payson with the pinnacle of achievement in prep sports — a state championship.
The Lady Longhorn volleyball team opens the postseason at noon today in Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley against Wickenburg.
The football team travels to Eagar Springerville tomorrow for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the homestanding Round Valley Elks.
The Lady Horns enter the state clash clutching a No. 7 seed, a tie for the East regular season title and as regional tournament champions.
Wickenburg, a member of the 3A West Region, takes a No. 10 seed into the tournament.
Coach Arnold Stonebrink says he’s “happy with the path at state” probably because the Lady Horns are aligned in a different bracket than No. 1 seeded Monument Valley, a state tournament favorite.
Which means if MV and Payson clash, it won’t be until the state championship finale.
“(The top bracket) also has the always-tough Safford and one-loss Sedona, a team that hammered us at state last year,” Stonebrink said. “It also has Fountain Hills, the only 3A team we’ve played this year that we haven’t beaten at least once.”
The Lady Horns are 0-4 against Fountain Hills this year.
The lower bracket, in which PHS is aligned, also has some powerful teams, especially No. 2 Ganado and No. 3 Window Rock.
Stonebrink says he doesn’t know much about Wickenburg, Payson’s first round opponent, because the Lady Horns did not play against them this season.
The Lady Wranglers participated in the Payson Invitational in September, but did not meet PHS.
“They were in the consolation portion of the tournament,” Stonebrink said.
A key to beating Wickenburg will be to contain their star hitter, 6-foot-plus Shelby Lehman.
If the Lady Horns can slip past Wickenburg, their mostly likely second round opponent would be Window Rock — a team that plays No. 14 Empire in the opening round.
Taking on a reservation school is not especially good news for PHS boosters because the Lady Horns haven’t traditionally fared well against the Northern Arizona schools.
“They have great passing and are superb at keeping the ball in play,” the coach said. “The tendency is to try to hit the ball harder thus hitting into the net and long.
“My teams in the past have done that,” said Stonebrink
A second round game for the Lady Horns would be played at 8 p.m. today.
All state games will be played in the Toyota Center.
On the road to RV
Among the challenges of playing at Round Valley, even though the Horns whipped the Elks big time, 42-0, in the regular season, is playing in the Ensphere.
Located in Eagar, it is the only high school dome in the United States.
Due to its 113,000-square-foot interior and seating for 5,000, it is an intimidating indoor structure for visitors, especially those playing in it for the first time.
“Round Valley will be a force to be dealt with on their turf,” said coach Byron Quinlan.
“But we are very capable of handling them if we play tough, hard-nosed Payson football and eliminate the mistakes.”
Playing in a hostile environment is not the only challenge the Longhorns must overcome.
They must also mold a defensive pass rush and rock-solid secondary to deal with Elk quarterback Chantz White.
In the early season game, the Payson bandits held White in check, allowing him to complete just 4 of 12 passes for 69 yards and an interception.
But White left the game with an injury and never was much of a factor.
The Elks, however, are a pass happy group much like the Show Low team that dazzled the PHS defense last week in the Cougars’ 45-40 win.
Show Low’s strong-armed signal caller Rathen Ricedorff riddled the Payson “D” completing 25 of 32 passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns, prompting Quinlan to declare “We’ve got to get better at rotating our secondary into different coverage packages.”
If the secondary doesn’t improve dramatically, White could duplicate Ricedorff’s aerial antics of last week.
Quinlan does have at his beckon call plenty of thoroughbreds in his corral and an offensive line that is maturing. Which could mean more points on the scoreboard.
Running back/Z back Westin Gibson, fullback Clint Harper and quarterback Wade Hunsaker are among those Quinlan praised following the loss to Show Low.
Defensively, Gunner Bauer, Cameron Geske and Tanner Clawson drew the coach’s plaudits.
If the Horns slip past RV, Payson would play a second round game on Nov. 13 against the winner of a Florence vs. Chinle first round matchup.