Payson’s girls soccer team went 3-16-1 this season.
It was an inexperienced squad with just two seniors and many players new to the sport.
But the Longhorns were well represented on the Division IV All-Section III team. Seven players received some form of recognition and fellow coaches voted Trae Dunman as the Coach of the Year.
Four Longhorns — senior Savannah Grassel and juniors Sadie Dunman, Marissa Kelley and Mishayla Rodgers — made the 14-member first team.
Three more — senior Jessie Cline, junior Ali Tenney and freshman Rebecca Carr — were among 10 girls honored on the second team.
Four of the seven honorees were playing soccer for the first time.
Dunman, 22, certainly wasn’t expecting recognition in his first season as head coach.
“Being my first year as coach, I was really surprised I was named Coach of the Year,” Dunman said. “I think it’s pretty cool. They were able to recognize me for what I was doing with the girls, even though we had a building year; knowing I was working with them and I was helping them become stronger and better soccer players.”
Grassel, a four-year varsity letter-winner and one of the Longhorns’ three captains, was the leader of a defense that posted three shutouts at sweeper.
“I was glad to see Savannah was selected first team,” Dunman said. “She’s a strong defender able to protect our goalie and a great communicator with our team. Savannah was a great leader for the team and I think this is a good way for her to finish her senior year.”
Grassel and Kelley were two of the few returning letter-winners on the roster. The forward led Payson with four goals. Her coach said the captain was crucial to the Payson offense.
“Marissa was able to work the ball up front and keep the ball on the offensive side to put some pressured shots on goal,” Dunman said.
Sadie Dunman and Rodgers both made big strides in their first year playing soccer. Dunman, Trae’s sister, was the Longhorns’ other starting forward.
“Sadie was able to work well with the midfielders and communicate with them,” her brother said. “And she was able to put some shots on the goal and pressure the goalie.”
Rodgers was the starting left midfielder. “She worked really well going back and forth between offense and defense to help both sides of the team,” coach Dunman said. “She never gave up on playing the ball. She was able to give the forwards many different looks by sending it up the field.”
Cline, another first-year player, was the team’s offensive midfielder. She scored the only goal in the season-ending 1-0 win over Chino Valley.
“I’m glad to see that she was recognized, being her first year,” Dunman said. “She was able to work the ball up front, helping the midfielders.”
Tenney, the team’s other captain, was in goal for the three shutouts after serving as the backup goalkeeper to Alix Parker as a sophomore. Her coach was disappointed she wasn’t selected to the first team.
“This was a tough one for me,” Dunman said. “I was actually surprised Ali didn’t make first team with how hard she was working. But I’m glad she made second team.
“I would have to say Ali was the heart of the team this year. She was able to block many shots. Even though the score may not have turned out the way we wanted, she would continue to push through the whole time.”
Carr, a left defender, was another of the many first-year soccer players on this year’s roster. “Throughout the whole year I heard many different coaches and people in the stands say they really enjoyed watching Becca play,” Dunman said. ‘She is a very strong defender. She would never give up and continue to push through the ball and players to make sure the ball did not get past her.”
The coach said he’s excited about the future of the program.
“I’m just really looking forward to working with these same girls next year,” Dunman said. “There will be more girls coming out next year. We might be able to field a JV team.
“So, I’m looking forward to working with these girls in the offseason and next season, as well.
“I know there’s going to be a group of freshman girls coming out.”
Blue Ridge, which successfully defended its state championship from last season, had 12 players honored, six on the first team and six on the second team.