Chris Avakian leaves little doubt the current Payson High School boys soccer team is the finest in his five-year tenure as head coach of the Longhorns.
“It’s the strongest, no doubt about it,” he said.
The praise is especially meaningful since last year’s team advanced to the Division IV state tournament semifinals before being eliminated by a nationally top-ranked Blue Ridge team that, after edging PHS 3-1, went on to win its third consecutive state title and finish the season with a 50-plus-game winning streak.
Today’s Horns probably solidified their lofty standing with the coach on Saturday, Oct. 13, in Chino Valley with a 1-0 nail-biting win over the previously undefeated Cougars.
Noe Vega paved the way to the stunning upset, scoring the game’s only goal and thwarting a Chino Valley shot attempt when the Horns were playing without a goalie.
“He was very definitely the player of the game,” said Avakian.
The win was a pay back of sorts for the Horns’ 3-0 loss to Chino Valley in a season-opening game played Sept. 8 at Rumsey Park.
The difference in Payson’s two performances, Avakian said, was, “In the first game, we were without some players who were ineligible, which hurt us.
“In the second game, we ratcheted up the defense, which helped us win.”
With Saturday’s loss, CV falls to 8-1 in power point rankings. Payson’s victory improved the Horns’ record to 5-2-3.
As of press time, however, the Longhorns win in Chino Valley had not been posted in the power point rankings.
When it is, the Horns should move up from their current No. 5 ranking among the 23 teams in Division IV.
The win over the Cougars assures PHS a berth into the state tournament when it kicks off Oct. 26 at a site to be determined.
But before the Horns can begin looking forward to the postseason, the players must take care of business today, Oct. 16, in a regular season-ending clash in Snowflake.
A win over the homestanding Lobos would most likely earn Payson a higher and more advantageous seed into the state tournament. A loss, however, could mean a lower state seed.
Snowflake enters the game with a 6-2 mark and ranked sixth, just one notch below the Longhorns.
The match will be the first of the season for the two teams that have long been rivals in every prep sport.
Blue Ridge, a three-time defending state champion, remains atop the power point rankings with its 6-0-2 record.
The Yellow Jackets’ two ties have been against the Longhorns by scores of 3-3 and 0-0.
In addition to last week’s win over Chino Valley, the Horns tacked on an additional “W” by whipping Round Valley 3-0 Oct. 9 in Eagar.
In the win, Bubba Nielson scored one goal and Kaylan Hinton tallied two.