The smile on Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink's face is there for good reason.
His charges have won three consecutive region games, they've avenged a disappointing early season loss to Holbrook and they are now in a better position in the East standings to earn a coveted state playoff berth.
"I am very happy with the play of the girls," Stonebrink said. "They are continuing to improve skill-wise and to grow mentally tougher and more mature."
With the trio of wins in the rearview mirror, Stonebrink's goal is to now help the girls "continue to progress and peak at the regional tournament" Oct. 29 in Wilson dome.
Payson's much-needed winning streak got off to a jump start Sept. 27 in Wilson dome with a two game sweep, 25-19 and 25-23, of the defending region champion Round Valley Elks.
Just two days later in Show Low, the Lady Horns survived a pair of squeakers, 25-23 and 28-26 against the Cougars.
The final game was a nail biter that saw Payson survive two Show Low game points, 24-23 and 26-25, before Jadyn Walden served two floaters the Cougars couldn't return.
The game marked the conclusion of the first half of the season. During it, all teams played one another one time and Payson finished with a 3-3 record.
Moving into the second half of the campaign, the Lady Horns opened Oct. 4 against a home standing Holbrook team that had kicked them in the shins Sept. 8.
In Wilson dome, Payson lost the first game 26-24, came back to win the second 25-21 and built a 22-17 lead in the rubber game before falling 25-17.
At the time, Stonebrink called it one of the toughest losses he suffered in his coaching career.
"This was a match that got away from us," he said.
Eager to make amends for that heartbreaker, the Lady Horns came out on fire in a second clash against the Roadrunners. After winning the first game 25-15, Payson drove a nail in the Runner coffin with a 25-16 win in the second.
With the triumph, Payson improved its record to 4-3 and earned a tie with Holbrook for third in the region standings.
In the opening game win over Holbrook, the Lady Horns had to take to the court without some of their starters who were on the bench due to missed practice time.
"We did another makeshift lineup," Stonebrink said. "The girls who played more than they usually do produced big time. We led from the opening and rolled to an easy win."
In the second game, the Lady Horns fell behind early 7-2 mostly because of several miscues.
During a timeout, Stonebrink told the girls the deficit was due to mistakes and the team needed to step up their play to get back into the game.
"The girls' attitudes were still positive, which was a good sign," he said.
The deficit reached 9-2 before the Lady Horns came roaring from behind to tie the game at 11-11.
Then, along came Ashely Anesin.
"She went on an enormous service run that sealed the win for us," Stonebrink said.
Anesin's streak included dishing up nine straight service winners. Her 12 service winners in the two games was a team-best.
"In just 15 serves, she had five aces and no errors," Stonebrink said.
Brooke Cannon unleashed 11 service winners and two aces, prompting Stonebrink to say, "Service was a great strength. As a team, the girls had seven aces and served 96 percent."
The coach also cited Anesin and Brittany Moore for outstanding serve receiving from the back row.
Sierra Sommars drew praise for her hitting efficiency, with four kills in seven attempts. Senior middle hitter Sarah Donovan's three blocks for points paced the team.
The Lady Horns return to action Oct. 11 in a nonregion showdown against home standing Fountain Hills.
Game times are 4 p.m. (freshmen), 5 p.m. (junior varsity) and 6:30 p.m. (varsity).