Amy Wilcox is touting her first year as head coach of the Lady Longhorn soccer program a rewarding season that often boosted her own spirits.
“There were times when I would have a bad day at work and then I would go to practice and the girls would make it all better,” she said. “I really enjoyed my first year.”
While parents can sometimes drive
coaches batty, Wilcox says the support she received from moms and dads was “fantastic.”
Another real thrill for her was playing a role in the “huge improvement” the players showed since the preseason practices kicked off four months ago.
About the only gloomy portion of the campaign was at the end when she was forced to say goodbye to a senior group of which she had grown quite fond.
“We are going to miss the seniors,”
Wilcox said while naming each one of them individually — Tanya Olson, Liz Romberger, Sara Anderson, Claudia Hernandez, Dania Morles, Alex Williams and Perla Guereque.
For that group and their underclass counterparts, the 2010 season wrapped up Oct. 29 in Gilbert with a 2-0 loss to the powerful St. Johns Redskins in the opening round of the 1A, 2A, 3A state tournament.
Entering the state game, the Lady Horns were a huge underdog to the Skins, having lost to the team 7-1 in the regular season.
St. Johns also won the East Region championship and is a favorite to claim the state title when it is decided Nov. 6 at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.
While the Lady Horns were hogtied by the Skins in the regular-season clash, at state Payson was very much the equal of the region champions trailing only 1-0 and remaining in striking distance of a win almost all game long.
St. Johns did not score its second and insurance goal until one minute remained in the game.
“Our girls played extremely well,” Wilcox said. “I talked to the St. Johns coach and he said we made him very nervous.”
Most rewarding about the solid showing for the coach is that the girls seemed to take her advice to heart.
“I told them at the beginning of the game to leave everything on the field, to not walk away knowing they could have given more,” she said. “I believed they listened and left everything on the field.”
Wilcox says the girls are disappointed the loss ended their season, “but it was a good way to end — the girls fought hard.”
While the Redskins had 17 shots on goal, compared to Payson’s four, the Lady Horns had some golden opportunities to score.
“But we couldn’t finish,” said Wilcox.
The Lady Horns earned the berth to state in a hair-raising postseason playoff among three East teams — Snowflake, Round Valley and PHS.
At stake was a state berth for two of the teams. The third team went home without a chance at the postseason.
In the opener, Payson fell 1-0 to Snowflake, which set up a Lobos vs. Elks game for one of the state slots.
Snowflake won to become the East fourth-place state seed.
With that determined, PHS took on Round Valley for the region’s fifth and final state seed. In a tense, hard-fought game that was dead-knotted 0-0 at halftime, the Lady Horns rallied with about three minutes remaining to score a goal and win 1-0.
Olson, one of the team’s finest players all season long, scored the winning goal on an assist from Romberger.
Although the game was a squeaker, it was obvious from the onset that the Lady Horns were superior.
“Within 26 minutes of the game we gathered up 17 shots and they had two,” said Wilcox. “It was clear we were dominating.”
The coach attributes Payson’s edge partly to Round Valley’s fatigue and disappointment, “they had come off a tough loss (to Snowflake) and we took that to our advantage — we were pumped.”
The winning goal was scored after Wilcox made strategy adjustments with about five minutes remaining.
She pushed some of her defenders up on the field in an attempt to get more scoring opportunities. The play worked, and the Lady Horns were rewarded with the coveted trip to state — a goal of almost every prep athlete in the state.
The players and coaches will gather one final time for the traditional awards ceremony. A date and place has not yet been decided.