Lady Longhorn basketball players could be on the outside looking in when the Division III, Section III tournament kicks off Feb. 7 in Surprise.
The plight exists because only the top eight teams in section power point rankings will be seeded into the tournament and Payson is currently sitting in 10th place.
For the Lady Horns to earn a postseason berth, the team will need a boost in power points that could come with victories in the final four games of the regular season. Ninth-ranked Parker and eighth-rated Cortez are the two teams the Lady Horns must pass to advance to the postseason.
Highballing past Parker is very attainable because only about a 1.4 difference in power points separates the two.
But Cortez, a Glendale school, holds about a 3.1-point lead over the Lady Horns, which means catching the Colts will take a solid effort in which PHS wins out and Cortez struggles down the stretch.
Rendering the Payson task of reaching the postseason doubly tough is the team is without the services of leading scorer Teanna Lopez who was injured two weeks ago and is not expected to return this season.
The Lady Horns’ remaining regular season games include Miami, today, Jan. 27 in Wilson Dome, at Fountain Hills on Jan. 31 and the season wraps up Feb. 3 vs. Show Low in Wilson Dome.
Payson has played all three teams earlier this season defeating Miami, 51-43 and Show Low, 44-31, but losing to Fountain Hills, 57-44.
Payson’s predicament of not reaching the postseason would not have occurred in past years when high school teams operated under the now defunct conference-region alignment.
In it, all teams in each region played in the regional tournament even if it was just one game and out. Under the new division-section configuration, which took effect at the onset of the school year, only eight of the 17 teams in Section III play in the sectional tournament.
After the section tournament wraps up, the top four finishers receive automatic berths into the D-III or “state” tournament.
Payson High athletic director Gary Fishel contends there is hope the Lady Horns, even if they don’t qualify for sectionals, could play in the divisional tournament.
“A team not finishing in the top four at sectionals and even one that doesn’t get to play in the sectional can receive an at-large bid, as there are 12 at-large places still available after sectionals,” Fishel said. “All of these placements will be based on overall power point standing.”
In recent Lady Longhorn action, the team fell 58-54 to Blue Ridge on Jan. 17 in Lakeside and on Jan. 20 near Scottsdale, Salt River overwhelmed PHS 68-35 by outscoring the Lady Horns 45-17 in the second and third quarters. Payson was without Lopez in both games.
Against Blue Ridge, Molly Davis stepped up to fill the scoring void created by Lopez’s absence, scoring a game high 16 points. Ariana Paulson added 10 but it wasn’t enough to sting a Jacket team that was struggling along with a 5-11 record.
Lady Horn varsity, jayvee and freshmen players took a bit of time away from basketball on Jan. 25 in Wilson Dome vs. Mingus to recognize during halftime ceremonies some of the teachers who had made a difference in their lives as they passed through the Payson schools system.
It was the second consecutive year the team has honored teachers.
Lady Horns Ashley Ralston, Destiney Cordero and Marcela Medina honored Halli Kinnick.
Alix Parker picked former PHS basketball head coach Kelly Krieg and Marissa Kelley selected Arnold Stonebrink, also the PHS volleyball coach.
Faith and Merry McGee settled on Bruce Haught who now teaches P.E. at PHS, but previously was a longtime teacher at PES. Haught is also a former PHS head baseball and assistant football coach. Jami Carlen tapped Casey Woodall, also the school’s wrestling coach.
Molly Beier and Terena Ward chose band director Mike Buskirk and Jessie Cline opted for longtime building trades instructor Richard Alvarez.
Bethany Sprinkle, Harley Turney, Teanna Lopez and Joelle Huffman honored Ron Silverman.
Molly Davis named Alison Randall, Katelyn Curtis selected Debbie Mercer and Laynie Brogdon, of Pine, chose Jan Clark.
D.J. Reynolds, Kayla Hall and Marcy Ward chose first-year Lady Longhorn basketball coach Jennifer White, who formerly taught in the elementary grades.
Sadie Dunman named Joyce Walters, Maddie Alhman picked Julie Boldt, Anaiah Blair honored Linda Gibson and Ali Tenney and Cori Barnett chose Nicole Ward, a middle school math teacher who once starred on the Lady Longhorn basketball team.
Chioya Hill selected school district health specialist Dani Hatch and Savannah Grassel named Meena Rustagi.