The Pine/Strawberry Buffaloes' seventh- and eighth-grade volleyball team has qualified for the Arizona State Small School Championship tournament.
Coached by Arnold Stonebrink, the Buffaloes earned the right to participate in postseason play with a second-place finish in the Verde Valley League tournament contested Oct. 25 in Clarkdale.
After wrapping up the regular season in fifth place with 7-7 credentials, the Pine-Strawberry team surprised almost everyone with a show of force in the Verde skirmish.
In the first round, the Buffaloes whipped Big Park 16-14 and 15-10.
The tournament scoring format was the traditional side out used in past years by all Arizona high schools. Arizona Interscholastic Association officials have since adopted rally scoring, but the Verde Valley League opted to retain side out.
In the semifinal round of the Verde showdown, the Buffaloes ran past regular season champion Oak Creek, 15-10 and 15-12.
In winning the season crown, Oak Creek had posted a 14-1 record.
"The girls played awesome. It was a great win," Stonebrink said.
With the dismantling of Oak Creek, Pine advanced to the championship showdown against Beaver Creek.
After whipping Beaver Creek 15-9 in the first game, Pine dropped the final two games by identical scores of 15-6.
Stonebrink, a first-year coach, attributed his team's run in the Verde tournament to outstanding overall play.
"We peaked at just the right time and played as a team," he said.
Although the championship trophy eluded Pine, the second-place finish qualified the Buffaloes for the state tournament tomorrow in Clarkdale and Jerome.
Also participating will be 12 Arizona teams representing junior highs and middle schools with less than 200 students.