After losing in the Division III softball state semifinals each of the last two years, the Longhorns have their sights set on breaking through and winning the first state championship in program history this spring.
To accomplish that, they’ll have to reach the title game for the first time.
And first-year head coach Kadi Tenney believes this squad just could be the one to make history.
“Our No. 1 goal is a state championship,” said Tenney, who takes over after serving as an assistant coach for several years. “We’ve been close two years in a row and we’re not backing off from that dream.”
She said this team could wind up being better than the one that went 29-5 a year ago.
“We have dominating pitching and good bats,” Tenney said. “Our potential this year is as good or better than it was last year.”
Three starters have graduated. However, six return.
Although the roster features just one senior, this very well could be the Longhorns’ best shot at a title because that lone 12th-grader is Arianna Paulson, who recently signed a National Letter of Intent to accept a softball scholarship to pitch at Brigham Young University.
“Obviously, being a senior, she should be better this year than she was last year,” Tenney said. “I know how much she expects out of herself.”
Although Arianna will pitch most games, she’ll also move around the field. “Ari can play anywhere,” Tenney said. “We’ll use her wherever we need her. She’ll be locked into pitching and the corner infield in college. So this is her last chance to move around. We can put her anywhere and I can feel confident about it. She’ll probably see a little bit of time everywhere.”
In addition to her overpowering pitching, she’s also the Longhorns’ best hitter. But her younger sister, Arissa, a sophomore, isn’t far behind either at the dish or in the field. “They’re both dominating pitchers and excellent hitters,” Tenney said. “Arissa lacks the experience that her older sister has, but she doesn’t lack anything else. She’s as good.”
She’ll spend the majority of games at other positions. “Pitching’s not her first choice,” her coach said. “She’s predominantly an infielder, but will pitch, as well, so we can use Arianna at other places. I really like Arissa at third base, but I feel confident putting her anywhere. She played outfield last year and was fantastic out there. And she’s caught a little bit in the past and that’s not out of the question.”
Junior Sadie Dunman is back at second base, where she started a year ago, in her third varsity season. She’s a strong player both with the glove and the bat and will bat in the top half of the order. So will classmate Payton Petersen, who takes over as the starting catcher in her third varsity season after serving as the backup to her sister, Taylor, who is a freshman on the College of Southern Idaho team, the past two seasons. She’ll also see action in the infield.
Junior Cori Barnett returns after starting in left field as a sophomore. She may switch positions this season. “We are looking at the possibility of her filling the first base slot this year,” Tenney said. “She has a good, consistent bat, so we definitely want her in the lineup.”
Sophomore Becky Bauer is also back, after starting in center field as a freshman. “She’s an excellent outfielder and has potential on the infield and will likely be the backup catcher,” Tenney said. “She’s real athletic. She’s a left-handed slapper, so she gives us the speed we need in the game.”
Other varsity contributors from 2013 returning are juniors Cori Barnett (1B-OF) and Ali Tenney (OF) and sophomores Rachel Spooner (infield) and Jewel Johnson (OF-1B).
Others who may contribute to the varsity this season are juniors Kelsey Barlow (OF), Chloee Connolly (OF) and Mishayla Rodgers (utility), sophomores Sara Novack (OF-1B) and Brittany Proctor (infield) and freshmen Savannah Conway (C-utility) and Carlie Smith (OF). Barlow is a speedy transfer student.
The AIA realignment has the Longhorns competing in Section V with Eagar Round Valley, Globe, Holbrook, Lakeside Blue Ridge, Show Low, Snowflake, Whiteriver Alchesay and, last but certainly not least, Winslow. The Bulldogs are one of the strongest programs in the state and have reached the championship game the last five seasons, winning the Class 3A crown in 2010 and finishing second four times in that period. Show Low, Snowflake and Blue Ridge have also been strong.
Tenney said she likes the idea of facing strong section opponents during the season.
“Our section is strong,” Tenney said. “It’s important because you get a lot of power points playing against good opponents. We want good opponents in the regular season because it prepares us for the tournament. Everything we do leading up to the tournament is preparing for the tournament.”
The Longhorns are scheduled to play Winslow once during the regular season, although they could meet in a tournament. But Payson beat the Bulldogs twice during the regular season a year ago before Winslow got the last laugh in the semifinals.
“Our goal is to use that game for strategy,” the coach said of the regular-season meeting between the teams. “We don’t want to reveal too much, but we want to see enough of what they have. We recognize they are definitely one of the teams we’re going to have to figure out how to get by to realize our dream. The coaching staff has to figure out how.”
The Longhorns open the season at home against Cottonwood Mingus on Wednesday.
In addition to Winslow, another team PHS may very well have to deal with somewhere down the tournament road is defending champion Goodyear Estrella Foothills. The Wolves have reached the final three times in the last four seasons, also winning the Class 3A title in 2011.
2014 Softball Schedule
March 5 Cottonwood Mingus, 4 p.m.
March 7 At Wickenburg Inv.
March 8 At Wickenburg Inv.
March 11 At Camp Verde, 4 p.m.
March 18 At Fountain Hills, 4 p.m.
March 21 Gracie Haught Inv.
March 22 Gracie Haught Inv.
March 25 At Snowflake, 3:30 p.m.
March 27 Blue Ridge, 4 p.m.
March 29 At Morenci, 2 p.m.
April 1 Holbrook, 4 p.m.
April 4 At Cottonwood Mingus, 4 p.m.
April 8 Winslow, 3 p.m.
April 9 Show Low, 4 p.m.
April 12 Camp Verde, 2 p.m.
April 14 At Blue Ridge, 3:45 p.m.
April 16 At Whiteriver Alchesay, 4 p.m.
April 22 Eagar Round Valley, 6 p.m.
April 25 At Show Low, 4 p.m.
April 26 At Estrella Foothills, 12 p.m.
April 29 Fountain Hills, 6 p.m.
April 30 Globe, 6 p.m.