The Pine seventh- and eighth-grade volleyball team surprised almost everyone by playing to fourth place at the Arizona State Small School championships.
"No one much expected us to do that because we finished fifth (with a 7-7 record) in the regular season," coach Arnold Stonebrink said.
The team earned a berth into the state tournament Nov. 1 in Jerome by virtue of its second-place showing at the Verde Valley League tournament Oct. 25 in Clarkdale.
In the state showdown, Pine was pitted against a tournament field that included mostly northern Arizona reservation schools where volleyball and basketball are popular youth attractions.
The Buffaloes opened state action with 15-12 and 15-13 losses to a Dilcon team that went on to win the state title.
In the second round, the team rebounded to whip Tonalea by identical scores of 15-5. The Buffalo win streak continued with two-game victories over Little Singer and Shonto. In the quarterfinals, Pine was eliminated by a 15-8 and 17-15 loss to the tournament's third-place finisher, Beaver Creek.
Beaver Creek also defeated Pine 2-1 (15-9, 6-15 and 6-15) in the championship round of the Verde Valley League tournament.
Stonebrink credited the Buffaloes' strong state tournament effort to exceptional team play in which all of the players "were able to turn it up a notch and do a really good job."
At the conclusion of the tournament, two of the Pine players -- Jesse Perez and Mollee Lee -- were selected to the all-state team.
"They really deserved it. They played well," Stonebrink said.
Now that the season has wrapped up, Stonebrink will turn his attention to serving as an assistant coach of the boys basketball team. Many of the volleyball players are expected to turn out for the girls Buffalo basketball squad.