Playing games to a whopping 60 points more resembles a marathon than high school volleyball.
But, single games to 60 points -- rather than traditional three-game matches with rally scoring -- was the play of the day at the seven-team Cougar Invitational Oct. 1 in Chino Valley.
"The format was interesting," Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink said. "We played a round robin ... against each team we played just one game to 60 points, or 40 minutes, whichever came first."
In the skirmish, the Lady Horns managed to post a 3-3 record, whipping Mingus, Willow Canyon and Phoenix Christian. Payson lost to Fountain Hills, Estrella Foothills and host Chino Valley.
"We finished tied for third. It was disappointing not to go at least 4-2," Stonebrink said. "Hopefully we learned from the tournament that even if we are down in hitting or passing, we still have a chance if we stay focused and positive."
Individually, Brooke Cannon led the team with 60 service winners that, Stonebrink said, "kept the opponents off balance nearly every match."
Cannon was also the team leader in hitting efficiency with a .483 mark. Tori Wilbanks finished as the team runner-up, recording a .190 standard. Sierra Sommars posted a .150 average to finish third among the Lady Horns.
The coach also cited Mollee Lee and Brittany Moore for their solid serve receiving.
In kills, Wilbanks paced the Lady Horns with 36. Senior middle hitter Sarah Donovan contributed 32.
The Horns opened the Chino Valley fray against pretournament favorite Fountain Hills who they play once again, in a regular season nonregion showdown, Oct. 11 in Fountain Hills.
"They jumped out to an early lead and then methodically grinded out the rest of the game," Stonebrink said. "We lost 60-46."
The coach cited Moore and Lee for their back row play, but said a lack of hitting put a crimp in the Lady Horn cause.
Following the loss, Payson went on a three-game winning streak, beating Mingus 52-45, Willow Canyon 60-49 and Phoenix Christian 55-50.
In whipping the Marauders, the Horns were led by Cannon who chalked up 16 service winners. Tori Wilbanks swatted eight kills and Moore and Lee again led the backcourt.
Against Willow Canyon, the Lady Horns fell behind 8-1 before Ashley Ansesin led a spirited rally
"She served the opponent silly, with three aces and by keeping them off balance with nearly every serve," Stonebrink said. Wilbanks paced the team in hitting with a .417 mark.
In whipping Phoenix Christian, the Lady Horns turned in their best hitting performance of the tournament.
"That enabled us to pull out the win," Stonebrink said. "Brooke scored points time after time with her tips."
Cannon finished with eight kills, a remarkable .889 hitting efficiency rating and nine service winners. Wilbanks banged out eight kills.
In losing to Estrella Foothills, Payson was at the mercy of one of the best serving teams the Lady Horns have faced this season.
"We had a rough time passing their great serving and it doomed us," Stonebrink said.
Jade Heglie shined from the service line, with seven service winners. Jadyn Walden and Cannon led the team in hitting with .857 and .571 averages.
The Lady Horns last game of the tournament, vs. Chino Valley, turned into an exercise in futility.
"It was our worst game," Stonebrink said. "The team fell apart emotionally and a lack of positive communication led to our defeat."
Even in the loss, however, there were some bright spots.
"Brooke served well (nine service winners) and Jadyn led the team in kills (seven) and hitting efficiency (.455)," Stonebrink said. "Ashley serve received nearly perfectly with an average of 2.89 out of a perfect 3."
Over the horizon
Following the Oct. 11 clash in Fountain Hills, the Lady Horns play four consecutive East region matches that could determine Payson's postseason fate.
The crucial showdowns are against Alchesay (Oct. 13), Blue Ridge (Oct. 18), Round Valley (Oct. 20) and Show Low (Oct. 25).
The Lady Horns own one match victory over Show Low, having edged the home standing Cougars 25-23 and 28-26 Sept. 29.
If Payson can emerge victorious in its final four east matches, the team could attain its goal of earning at least a three seed into the region tournament to be played Oct. 29 in Wilson dome.
A top-four showing there would propel the Lady Horns into the 3A state tournament Nov. 4 and 5 in Glendale.