Riding the crest of an East region three-match winning streak, the Lady Longhorns gave the powerful Snowflake Lobos all the fight they could handle before falling 2-1.
In the hotly contested showdown Oct. 6 in Wilson dome, the undefeated and league-leading Lobos dominated the first game, winning 25-14. Payson rebounded from the poor showing to win the second game 25-19. In the
rubber match, the Lobos remained unbeaten, with a pulsating 25-22 win over the gutsy Lady Horns.
Following the nail-biter, PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink said he was happy with the girls' effort but admitted to having bittersweet feelings.
"On one hand, a little more consistent hitting and passing, especially in the third game, would have carried us to a victory," he said. "On the other hand, the match indicated Payson can play competitively with Snowflake.
"This bodes well for us at the regional tournament -- I believe the match gave our girls more confidence."
Payson's finest effort might have come in the crucial third game after the Lady Lobos rode several dominating kills to a 20-13 lead.
With Snowflake seemingly on the edge of rolling to an easy win, Ashley Anesin stepped to the line and uncorked five consecutive service winners, to close the Lobo lead to 23-22.
One point, however, was as close as the Lady Horns could get. Snowflake scored the final two points to win the game 25-22 and the match.
The first game loss could be more attributed to Payson's sloppy play than Snowflake's proficiency.
"We had five hitting errors, three service errors and spotty serve receiving," Stonebrink said.
"We played mediocre, which didn't cut it against a team the caliber of Snowflake."
The second game could be classified as the Lady Horn version of Jekyll and Hyde.
In a turnaround from the lackluster showing in the opening clash, Payson played almost perfectly to claim a six-point victory.
"We had no service errors, solid hitting, strong passing and terrific digs," Stonebrink said.
The coach cited Jade Heglie and Anesin for their spirited play in the game.
Anesin finished the match as the team leader in service winners with eight and in serve receiving with a score of 2.35 out of a perfect 3.
Senior middle hitter Sarah Donovan led the team at the net, chalking up 13 kills and 10 blocks, three of which fell in for points.
Stonebrink also cited Brooke Cannon for solid all-around floor play that included six kills and 22 assists.
"Her well-placed tips and spikes really helped us," he said.
Tori Wilbanks also contributed six kills to the Lady Horn effort.
Payson returned to the Wilson dome court Oct. 13 against the Alchesay Falcons (results not available at press time).
Next up on the East region agenda is an Oct. 18 visit to Lakeside to take on the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
Also on the schedule is an Oct. 20 skirmish in Round Valley and a regular season wrap-up Oct. 25 in Wilson dome against Show Low.
The regional tournament will be played Oct. 29 in Payson.
If the Lady Horns finish among the top four in the region, they'll attain their season-long goal of a berth into the Class 3A state tournament. The state fray will be played Nov. 4 and 5 in Glendale.