Healthy doses of spirit, heart and determination weren't enough to earn the seven senior members of the Lady Longhorn volleyball team the state tournament berth the players have cherished the past four seasons.
Their dreams crashed Monday evening in Flagstaff where the Coconino Panthers nipped the determined Lady Horns 2-1 in the opening round of the Grand Canyon region tournament.
The loss was especially tough on the seniors who donned PHS volleyball uniforms for the final time that evening.
"The seniors went out with a bang," coach Arnold Stonebrink said. "They have no reason to hang their heads."
Stonebrink said the third and deciding game was one of the most competitive he has seen.
"We cut (Coconino's) lead to 24-23 and were one point from putting it into overtime," he said. "But they returned the serve, got a kill and that was it."
The coach also praised the efforts of his charges.
"It was a hard-fought match. Our girls were very poised most of the game and very, very focused," he said. "It was a real heartbreaker. We were very close to pulling off a win."
In the first game, the Panthers clawed Payson 25-18 only to see the Lady Horns even the match at 1-1 with a 25-22 victory.
In the second, Payson ran out to a 12-3 early lead but Coconino rallied to pull with 21-18.
"I knew they would make a run at us," Stonebrink said. "But we scored four of the last six points to win it."
The rubber game was up for grabs most of the evening before Coconino salvaged the nail-biting 25-23 victory. At the conclusion of the see-saw affair, Panther coach Kerry Kriesel said the intense clash almost sent her into cardiac arrest.
For the Lady Horns, Rikki Ray led the team in kills with nine, had 27 spikes and five errors. Ray also turned in an exceptional serving game finishing with 19 serves, two aces and no errors.
"She also did a fabulous job serve receiving," Stonebrink said.
Sara Donovan chalked up 15 spikes, six kills and had three errors.
Sophomore Brooke Cannon finished with 13 spikes, two kills and no errors.
For Coconino, a thorn in the Horns' side all evening was Panther setter Danielle Byrd who finished with 23 assists, three aces and three kills.
Payson entered the game as the region's fifth seed. Because Coconino was the fourth seed, the Panthers were awarded the home site advantage.
Second-seeded Flagstaff and third-seeded Page also advanced in the tournament from the region's first round games.
Flagstaff beat Chinle 25-15, 25-22 and Page ran past Mingus 26-24, 25-13.
In tournament semifinals Oct. 30 in Chinle, Coconino will battle regular season champion Sinagua and Page will meet Flagstaff.
Sinagua already has earned an automatic berth to state by virtue of its regular season championship. The Mustangs are guaranteed a third seed to state but could go as a No. 1 if they win the tournament.
Although three of the four teams in the semifinals are from Flagstaff, all will have to make the four-hour trip to Chinle for the tournament semifinals and finals.
Chinle was awarded volleyball regional last year after it lost the right to host basketball regionals because of unruly fan behavior.