An 11-10 triumph over highly regarded Ganado highlighted the Lady Longhorns three-day stay in East Region Volleyball Tournament.
At Blue Ridge High School Sept. 20, Payson beat the Hornets in the biggest upset of the tournament. Perennially powerful Ganado, the 3A state championship favorite, entered the game fresh off a runner-up finish in the Payson Invitational one week earlier.
Following the surprising win, the most second-year PHS coach Chris Schwind could utter was the obvious, "We beat Ganado."
The thrill of the upset was dampened one game later when the Hornets salvaged an 11-7 revenge victory
The clash saw Payson battle back to give Ganado a scare after falling behind 7-0.
In the tournament opener, just prior to the match against Ganado, the Lady Horns lost back-to-back games to Winslow by identical 11-4 scores.
The loss to the Bulldogs could be attributed to the inability to return serves.
"We had trouble on our serve receives and gave up seven points in a row during the first game," Schwind said. "In the second game, we still had problems serve receiving and gave up five (points) in a row."
During all of Friday's tournament action, the Lady Horns competed in pool play along with Chino Valley, Red Mesa, Ganado and Winslow.
After splitting with Ganado, the Lady Horns lost to Red Mesa 11-5, but rebounded one game later for an 11-1 victory.
"We came out strong for the second game," Schwind said.
Against Chino Valley, the Lady Horns dropped disappointing 11-9 and 11-4 decisions.
"We should have beaten Chino Valley," Schwind said. "At one point, we had them 9-6 and they had received a yellow card for (lack of) sportsmanship."
Leading by three and in possession of the serve, the Lady Horns were unable to cash in on a golden opportunity to put the game away.
"They regained the serve and served the game out," Schwind said. "It was an extremely disappointing loss."
Had the Lady Horns won, they would have taken third place in the pool and earned a seed into the championship bracket played the following day. But the loss dropped Payson (2-6) into fifth place in their pool.
Seeded sixth in consolation bracket play Saturday, Payson opened with an 11-7 loss to Red Mesa. The Lady Horns recovered to take the match 11-2 and 11-8.
In the second round, the Lady Horns turned lackluster again losing 15-1 and 15-12 to Queen Creek.
The coach attributed the second loss to the inability to come up with the big plays at crunch time.
"The game was tied 9-9 and we served to 12," she said. "They got side out and served five consecutive points."
After another side out, Queen Creek scored the winning point.
"Mental errors cost us the game," Schwind said.
With the loss, Payson fell into a loser's bracket game against Sahuarita. Once again the Lady Horns came up short, losing 15-4 and 15-14.
Following the team's return to Payson, Schwind turned philosophical about the showing in Blue Ridge.
"My girls can play better. We just seemed to be on a really wicked rollercoaster ride and cannot always recover after a big dip," she said. "With only two returning varsity players, (losing) is mentally tough on some of the younger players."
Schwind's coaching goal the remainder of the season is "to work on our confidence and mental toughness."
The coach cited Mekayla Marshall and Britney Owens for their efforts in the tournament.
"Mekayla is a very consistent player and if I can get her to be a little more aggressive, she will continue to see more playing time," Schwind said.
The coach praised Owens, a sophomore in her first year on varsity, as a player who "has exceeded my expectations, and I look forward to having her improve throughout her high school career."
Schwind predicts Owens will become an excellent player.
In Fountain Hills
The Lady Horns returned to regular season play Sept. 24 against 2002 Payson Invitational champion Fountain Hills.
After being soundly thumped 15-3 in the first game, Payson pushed Fountain Hills to the limit in the second before losing 15-9.
"In the first game, we came out scared," Schwind said. "In the second, we were able to focus on the task and played well."
The coach praised Hillari Hardt and Terri Pete for good blocking that helped shut down some of Fountain Hills' powerful hitting.
In jayvee action, Payson won the first game 15-10, dropped the second 15-6. In the rubber game, Payson claimed the match with a 15-9 triumph.
"Our jayvees continue to be very strong and play well," Schwind said.
The Payson freshmen lost 15-3 and 15-1.
Crucial East region action for the Lady Horns is on top for today (Tuesday) in Round Valley. The varsity game at 6:30 p.m. is preceded by jayvee (5:30 p.m.) and freshmen (4:30 p.m.) games.