All season long the Lady Longhorns basketball team (13-13) teetered on the brink of qualifying for the Division III state tournament by finishing among the top 24 teams in the power point rankings.
But when the campaign finally wrapped up on Feb. 3 with a 49-33 win over Show Low, Lady Horn players found themselves on the outside of postseason play looking in.
The 30th-place finish among the 57 D-III teams came up short of earning the girls a ducat to high school’s version of the Big Dance.
The Lady Horns finished with about 67.3258 power points and needed just over 69 to squeeze into 24th place — the final qualifying spot.
If there are two losses to pinpoint as damaging blows to Lady Horn hopes of reaching the postseason, they are both to lowly Blue Ridge, a team that finished 30th in the power point ranks.
The Lady Horns lost to Blue Ridge 58-54 on Jan. 17 and 49-44 on Feb. 1.
If Payson had won those two clashes, the Lady Horns might be filling out their dance card for the state tournament rather than turning in their uniforms and preparing for a postseason awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23 in the Rim Country Middle School gymnasium.
During the regular season, PHS played and lost to three teams — Page, Fountain Hills and St. Johns — that are seeded into the state tournament that began Feb. 15 and will wrap up Feb. 25 with the championship finale at Jobbing.com Arena in Glendale.
Page enters the state tournament as a No. 1 seed and the odds-on favorite to walk away with the division crown.
On Jan. 3, the Lady Horns lost to the Dust Devils 52-21.
Fountain Hills enters the tournament as a No. 9 seed and St. Johns is seeded 19th.
Payson lost to St. Johns 50-37 on Jan. 26 and on Jan. 31 fell to Fountain Hills 51-46.
In both those losses, the Lady Horns were without the service of Teanna Lopez, the team’s leading scorer, who was sidelined earlier in the year with an injury.
Lopez averaged 13.8 ppg, which was the fourth best mark in Section III, according to Max Preps statistics.
During the season she developed a reputation as a long-range specialist hitting a team-high 32 three-point field goals, or an average of 2.7 per game — second best in Section III.
While scoring is definitely a head turner and attention grabber in high school sports, basketball purists are marveling at the rebounding accomplishments of junior captain Chioya Hill, who burst onto the hardwood scene in 2007 as a 12-year-old entered in the Arizona State Basketball Bonanza Championships played in U.S. Airways Arena in Phoenix.
Just two years later, Hill — then a freshman — was pressed into starting varsity play due to injuries to then coach Kelly Kreig’s first PHS team.
In an early season 53-40 win over Globe, Hill gave onlookers a glimpse of things to come, corralling a team-high 14 rebounds.
From then on out it has been Chioya-bar-the-door as the teen has dominated both offensive and defensive rebounds no matter the opponent.
According to Max Preps, Hill wrapped up her junior season with a whopping 202 total rebounds which is far and away best on the team.
Arianna Paulson is second on the team in rebounds with 66.
Hill’s rebounding average of 10.1 per game is second in Section III only to Buckeye’s Aliesandra Fuller who finished with an 11.4 average.
For some past games, Payson High statistics were not entered in Max Preps online records. Which means when, or if, they are compiled and entered, Hill might have the rebounds necessary to break the school record of 312 set in 2003 by Trista Carlton.
No matter what occurs down the road, Hill has left an impression on her former coach.
“Chioya has something that the very best high school athletes possess and it is heart,” Krieg said. “Rebounding is a lot about effort and ‘want to’ — two things that can accurately describe Chioya and in turn has made her into a great rebounder.
“In addition, she’s never satisfied with her game and is constantly wanting to improve upon weaknesses. I’m lucky to have coached Chioya.”
In addition to Hill being a sensational rebounder, she was also an offensive threat averaging 7.3 ppg, which was second on the team behind Lopez.
With another year left to play at PHS, Hill is poised to become one of the Lady Horns’ finest players, joining the likes of Amberlyn White, Colleen Hale and Shelly Clayton.
While Lopez and Hill were stat leaders, the Lady Horn roster also featured several other big-time contributors to the team cause.
Jaymi Carlen, a 5-foot, 6-inch senior point guard, averaged 6.2 ppg game, dished out 26 assists and gave the Lady Horns a hard-nosed player not shy about mixing it up.
Molly Davis, a senior captain who was often lauded by coach Jennifer White, averaged 6.4 ppg and was a capable outside shooter sinking 13 three-balls in 49 attempts.
She also finished with a team-high 48 steals.
Although the 2011-2012 season wrapped up without the Lady Horns reaching basketball’s promised land — the state tournament — the team’s future appears bright with several underclassmen returning to lead next year’s team.
Varsity letter winners Harley Turney, Alex Parker, Savannah Grassel, Emme Ashby and Paulson are only sophomores.
Hill also returns for her senior season next school year.