Volleyball Coach, Player Are All-Stars

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A Payson coach and one of his most accomplished players have been tapped to participate in the 1999 Arizona Coaches' Association North vs. South All-Star Volleyball game to be played June 18 on the campus of Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher.

Chosen in a voting of ACA members conducted at Tempe Corona del Sol High School were Lady Horn varsity coach Steve Konvalin and senior Stephanie Robertson.

Konvalin will coach the South, and Robertson will be one of 12 team members under his tutelage. The only other Central Division player selected to the all-star team was Fountain Hills setter Laura Robertson.

In the all-star selection process, the 3A conference is allowed to choose three "automatics" before the voting by coaches begins to select the remaining members. The automatic star berths traditionally go to athletes that coaches feel are the three most polished players in the conference. Robertson was an automatic.

Playing middle blocker on the 1999 team, Robertson often drew plaudits from Konvalin. "She is a great athlete and an extremely hard worker who has a good attitude," he said.

The coach also labels her a "good all-around player", but says her real value to the team was as a hitter.

Robertson did not play volleyball as a junior, instead opting for the inaugural PHS girls' soccer program.

After a full season playing soccer, she changed sports and quickly acquired enough skills to become one of the best volleyball players in the state.

As one of the most talented all-around athletes to ever don a Lady Horn uniform, learning the new sport of volleyball was relatively easy for Robertson. She called upon the skills she had developed as an all-division basketball performer and a national-class track and field athlete.

A testament to her ability to quickly conquer new athletic challenges occurred two years ago when she first began competing in heptathlon.

At the time, she had never thrown a javelin -- an event requirement -- and was thrust into on-the-job training to learn the techniques involved.

By the time the track and field season ended, the javelin was one of her stronger events.

Last spring, Robertson set a new meet Glendale Invitational Meet heptathlon record with 4,379 points.

During the summer months, when school is not in session, Robertson transforms herself into a Junior Olympic standout on the national scene. Her best events are the hurdles, high jump, shot-put and long jump.

The coach
At the upcoming all-star clash, Konvalin will be coaching in his first ACA All-Star game.

He says he's excited about the opportunity and is looking forward to working with some of the state's best players.

As a Payson High School graduate, Konvalin attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, then returned in 1993 to teach and coach at his alma mater.

He spent one year as the freshman volleyball coach and as the school's trainer before taking over the varsity program. In only his second year at the helm, he led the Lady Horns to a 12-2 record and the rugged East Division. His lifetime record is 64-16.

Last season, the team puttered to a slow start and continued to struggle throughout the regular season without making much noise in the Central Division race. But by the time the season-ending Central championship tournament was played in the Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns were on fire.

Decided underdogs in the tourney, the Payson inferno opened with 15-4 and 15-4 wins over Globe.

In the second round, the Lady Horns were paired against regular season Central co-champ Miami. But the vaunted Vandals were no problem for the red-hot Horns, who took the match 2-1.

In the championship finale against highly regarded Fountain Hills, Payson dropped the first contest 10-15 but put together 15-10 and 15-13 wins to claim the Central championship.

The rousing tournament upset propelled the Horns into the state championships one week later as the Central's number-one seed.

There, Payson won its first-ever state tournament game by beating Wickenburg 15-13 and 15-13 in the opening round.

But all good things must come to an end and Payson's dream season was soon dampened in the quarterfinals. The Horns fell to North division runner-up Monument Valley 15-17, 15-8 and 15-7.

Even in the disappointing loss, the campaign turned out to be a memorable one for Konvalin. "Overall it was a great season, and it was fun to have so much talent," he said. "They are a great bunch of girls."

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