Payson High senior Chioya Hill, the hard-nosed player with the rock ’em sock ’em attitude and a love of basketball, could be the key to any success the Lady Longhorn basketball team enjoys during the coming season.
After all, she is a four-year letter winner, a past all-region honoree and a returning captain who last year fueled the Lady Horn charge to within a whisper of earning a Division III state tournament berth.
Hill 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 Krieg’s first PHS team.
In an early season win over Globe, Hill gave onlookers a glimpse of things to come, corralling a team-high 14 rebounds.
From then on, it has been Chioya-bar-the-door as the teen has dominated both offensive and defensive rebounds, no matter the opponent.
Hill’s rebounding average last season of 10.1 per game was second in Section III only to Buckeye’s Aliesandra Fuller who finished with an 11.4 average.
This season, if all game statistics are reported to MaxPreps, the official statistical site for the Arizona Interscholastic Association, 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.”
While Hill is one of the fiercest rebounders in Lady Longhorn history, she is also a proven scorer, having finished second on the team last year with an average of just over seven points per game.
As good as Hill is, basketball is a team game, and she’ll need plenty of help from teammates for the Lady Horns to advance to the promised land of postseason playoffs.
That help could come from returning letter-winners Arianna Paulson, Harley Turney and Savannah Grassel.
All are proven players and only need to fine tune their games to become big-time contributors to the Lady Horn cause.
Freshman Arissa Paulson, Arianna’s sister, and junior Alix Parker could also see significant playing time.
“Both are strong players who will add a great deal to the team,” said second-year coach Jen White. “Arissa will be a solid post player to work with Chioya.”
Layne Brogdon will join the varsity team after playing with the jayvees last season.
Also, Lanie O’Donnel, who sat out last season, has returned. “We are excited to have her back in the program,” White said.
In preseason practices, White and her staff have focused on running the motion offense, improving shooting, protecting the hoop with a zone defense and finding ways to break half and full court pressure defenses that stymied the Lady Horns last season.
“We have struggled with the press in the past,” White acknowledged.
As for the intangibles of attitudes, character, hustle and desire that if not present can spell the demise of prep teams, White is confident the Lady Horns will be fine.
“We all get along very well and we are coming together as a team,” she said. “We are all excited for our season as we have great team dynamics.”
Looking down the schedule highway, White expects Winslow and Page to be the teams to beat, but says, “Every team can present themselves as a tough competitor on any given night.”
This season, White will be assisted by her husband, Denver, himself a former PHS athlete.
Miles Huff, another ex-Horn player, will coach the junior varsity and Trae Dunman and JB Thornhill will co-coach the freshmen.