Payson opens the girls soccer season Tuesday, Aug. 31 at St. Johns before playing Holbrook at home at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2.
It’s quite different than a year ago when the school hired David Cluff to take over as head coach late. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of uncertainty and slowed preparations for the 2020 season, which didn’t start until mid September and banned regular-season tournaments.
They didn’t even know if they would have a season until the AIA allowed the season to start late in the middle of September.
“There was definitely a lot of uncertainty (last year),” Cluff said. “We just tried to use it as an opportunity because it leveled the playing field a little bit since every team was dealing with the same situation.”
But the coach was able to work with his players this summer in preparation for the season.
“This season, we have a lot more momentum,” he said. “We’re building off last year and a good portion of the team came out to train over the summer, so we got a lot of good work in.”
“We’ve got a more experienced team, a deeper team. Even though we lost four really good seniors, we feel like we can still push on this year and do a lot of good with the girls we’ve got.”
The combined 25-player varsity and junior varsity roster features six seniors — Jennifer Avalos, Kayla Cline, Hailey Dominguez, Claire Hancock, Kayde Johnson and Landree Ryden; four juniors — Jasmine Hagel, Lexi Lee, Kenzie Sarnowski and Maggie Whaley; eight sophomores — Gema Bainori, Mia Flores, Chloe Hancock, Taylor Hogue, Alexis Jacobs, Emmalea Mcminimy, Joselin Mendoza and Joy Utterback; and seven freshmen — Kassidy Cline, Lauren Odegaard, Alondra Ramirez, Mylee Redford, Hannah Sarnowski, Julianna Vazquez and Clara Whaley.
Ali Tenney returns as assistant coach.
The Longhorns are among a dozen teams playing fall girls soccer in Arizona. They’re back in the 2A Central with Camp Verde, Chino Valley, Flagstaff Northland Prep, Page and Sedona Red Rock.
The other six teams — Blue Ridge, Holbrook, Round Valley, Show Low, Snowflake and St. Johns — play in the 2A East.
The top six teams qualify for at least the state play-in game. The top two teams earn berths in the state semifinals, with the next four teams in the rankings playing at the high seed on Nov. 2 for the right to face those top two teams in the Nov. 4 semifinals at the high seed. The state championship game is at 6:15 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Gilbert Williams Field.
Northland Prep is the four-time defending state champion. NP beat St. Johns in last year’s final after knocking off 2016 champ Chino Valley in the title game the previous three years.
Payson’s 13-game schedule doesn’t include the Sept. 10-11 Show Low Invitational, where the Horns play Holbrook, Chino Valley, Show Low and Snowflake.
Senior night is set for halftime of the Oct. 7 home game against Camp Verde. They wrap up the home schedule against Northland Prep on Oct. 20 and end the season at Sedona Red Rock on Oct. 27.
Payson is coming off a 3-11 season (2-4 in 2A Central) with two wins over Red Rock and the other against Holbrook. Those are the only two teams they’ll face twice this year. Last year, they played five teams — Camp Verde, Chino Valley, Red Rock, Show Low and Snowflake — twice.