Payson High School coaches are mostly pleased with the results of the recent Arizona Interscholastic Association reconfiguration and the placement of Longhorn teams in divisions and sections for the two-year scheduling block beginning with the 2013-14 school year.
Which means Athletic Director Don Heizer will not appeal any of the placements to the AIA Executive Board.
Schools not happy with where their teams were aligned have until Jan. 22 to appeal. The AIA anticipates announcing the appeal results the following days.
Cross country coach Johnathan Ball is probably the most elated of the PHS coaches mainly because his runners will no longer compete in the same section with the reservation schools as PHS has done for the past two seasons.
Competing against the reservation schools is doubly tough because they annually field the finest long distance teams in the state comprised of Hopi and Navajo runners. In those two cultures, running is a way of life.
Which means competing against those teams in the sectional finals makes qualifying for the Division III state run almost impossible.
“This will be a great opportunity for the cross country team,” Ball said. “We have a very young team and now have a chance to get some confidence in our new section.”
Ball contends there is another reason runners should be elated with the move to Section III, “It will be a relief to run in Glendale (at the sectional tournament) the last week in October as opposed to Holbrook (where this year’s sectional finals were held). The weather should be nicer and we can use our training elevation as an advantage.”
There could be, however, one disadvantage to competing in Section III in that it will also be the home of Valley area schools with much larger enrollments than PHS.
Sierra Linda is the largest with 1,673 students, Moon Valley has 1,472 pupils and Tempe High’s enrollment is 1,405.
With 750 students, PHS is one of the smallest in the section, meaning many foes the Longhorns face will have huge number advantages.
Of the 17 schools in S-III, 10 of them have student body populations of 1,000 and more.
In track and field, which Ball also coaches, the AIA has decided not to align teams in sections, only in divisions.
“It is disappointing not to have a sectional championship meet to prepare athletes for the state championship,” Ball said.
With no sectional competition, track and field athletes must qualify for the state meet by turning in a top 24 times or distances during the regular season.
In boys basketball, the Longhorns were aligned in D-III, S-IV with some of the previous members of the now defunct 3A East Region as well as Globe, Winslow and Miami.
“I love it,” said coach Joe Sanchez. “Closer games and great competition and we’re playing teams that I played against as a (PHS) player.”
Also in the division and section placement that was used the past two seasons, teams did not always play sectional foes at least once, which rankled some coaches including Sanchez.
“The last two years we played Fountain Hills and Valley Christian. Those were the only two sectional games on our schedule ... it was frustrating.”
In baseball, the Horns will have a new varsity coach in Brian Young who has been in the program several seasons as the jayvee coach.
For the next two years, Young’s charges will be members of S-V along with former 3A East teams in the White Mountains.
The disadvantage to playing a spring sport in that area is that weather can play a role and games can be postponed.
“Definitely good and bad when traveling east in the spring for baseball,” said Young. “I like keeping some of the old East (Region) rivalries alive, but then you never know what kind of weather we will run into.”
Young eagerly awaits the schedules for the next two-year block saying, ‘”It will be interesting to see what they will look like since we won’t have room for home and away games with everyone in the section.”
Volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink harbors no qualms with the reconfiguration, but like Young, has expressed opinions about scheduling.
“I like playing everyone once and then filling in the schedule ourselves,” Stonebrink said. “And more than that, I like the computer setting up the sections schedule rather that the computer setting up virtually the whole schedule.”
Boys soccer coach Chris Avakian said the realignment didn’t affect his team because it was in the same division and section it has been in the for the past two seasons.
Former PHS Athletic Director Gary Fishel this week is weighing into the reconfiguration saying, “I was mostly pleased with the placements. I know weather will be an issue with baseball and softball, but it will always be with our home games and practices.”
The former AD is happy with the way football was aligned, “I was glad to see football back with the big boys of the old 3A East ... that section (V) is the powerhouse of the division.”
Softball coach Will Dunman OK’d the changes that placed his Lady Horns in D-V with White Mountain schools, but said, “I really like going to the Valley to play schools down south, but with the new schedule we play some of our old (3A East) rivals.”
He summed up the realignment saying, “So whatever, we will play whoever.”
PHS wrestling coach Casey Woodall has not publicly expressed concerns about the Longhorn placement in D-III, S-I with some of the finest teams in the state including Flagstaff, Coconino and Mingus. Heizer, however, has spoken, saying, “Wrestling is brutal.” Heizer is a longtime wrestling coach at PHS and in Colorado.
Fishel agreed with Heizer, “Having Flagstaff and Coconino in the section seems daunting due to size.”
Flagstaff has 1,521 students and Coconino has 1,446.