A Herculean effort that left Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Chris Schwind beaming with pride came up three points short of earning Payson a berth in the 4A Grand Canyon regional final four.
In the opening round of the Grand Canyon regional tournament Tuesday evening at Flagstaff Coconino, the Lady Horns lost the fifth and deciding game 15-12 to the home-standing Panthers.
Coconino, state eighth-ranked and the region's regular season runner-up, entered the tournament a huge favorite to easily dispose of the Lady Horns.
Refusing to wear the label of underdog, the Horns took to the floor with their competitive juices following.
"The girls came out ready to play," Schwind said. "They were on fire."
Riding the emotion created by postseason play, Payson upset Coconino 25-22 in the first of the five games. In the second, Payson lost 25-15.
With the match tied at 1-1, the Lady Horns took a surprising lead by whipping Coconino 25-23.
The match turned dead-even in the fourth game when the Panthers scratched out a 25-23 win.
"That game was tied 23-23 and we had them on the ropes," Schwind said. "We just couldn't get those (winning) points."
With the outcome of the match and a seed into the final four at stake, the two teams battled on even terms throughout the deciding game. "Neither team ever led by more than two points," Schwind said. "We were playing really well and with a lot of confidence."
Although the Payson playoff effort came up just short, Schwind was quick to praise the spirited play of all the team members.
The coach also singled out Hillari Hardt for an exceptional performance at the net in which she was able to hold Coconino star Kim Cox to a stalemate. Hardt was credited with five block kills.
Staci Scholl paced the Lady Horns with seven kills. Schwind also praised Scholl for turning in "probably her smartest game of the season."
With the campaign at an end, Schwind is surveying her calendar to find a date for the season-ending awards ceremony.
"It will be sometime in the next two weeks," she said.
At 9 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday), Schwind and the fellow Grand Canyon head coaches will gather in Flagstaff to select the All-Region team.
Schwind will announce the results of that voting at the awards ceremony.