A pair of Lady Longhorn standout efforts against state top-ranked teams yielded no winning results.
"I guess you could say we claimed our second moral victory versus the state's elite teams," coach Arnold Stonebrink said. "But I would really like to see the girls turn the moral victories into bona fide wins."
The coach's comments came after an Oct. 11 game in which the Lady Horns pushed state top-rated Fountains Hills to the brink before losing two nail biters, 25-23 and 25-25.
Just four days earlier in Wilson dome, the Lady Horns took unbeaten and league-leading Snowflake to task before losing 2-1. Snowflake dominated the first game, winning 25-14, but Payson rebounded from the poor showing to take the second game 25-19. In the rubber match, the Lobos remained unbeaten, with a pulsating 25-22 win over the gutsy Lady Horns.
Coach Arnold Stonebrink believes the key to turning those heartbreaking losses into victories could be mental toughness.
"I would like to see the girls step up their intensity and skill when the game is on the line," he said. "We've seen a breakdown at crunch time one way or another, which prevented us from winning the close games.
"Against Snowflake, it was hitting and against Fountain Hills it was serving."
In the loss to Fountain Hills, the Lady Horns opened as they've done so many times this year -- shorthanded.
Because team rules forbid players who have missed practices from participating in the first game of a match, the Lady Horns had to take to the court without some of their starters.
"We had two jayvee setters, Laci Sommars and Sami Novak handling the setting chores for the first time on the varsity level," Stonebrink said.
The coach also started Mollee Lee at libero in place of Brittany Moore.
Although the fledgling varsity players were mostly untested, they helped propel the Lady Horns out to a 14-10 lead with standout serving and strong hitting.
Payson rode the heady play to a 22-20 lead before the Falcons went on a 5-1 run to salvage a two-point decision.
"The setters did a nice job of running the offense and Laci Sommars' three aces and Novak's one paced our serving attack," Stonebrink said. "We started out very shaky (with) serve receiving; had we been a little more consistent there, we may have pulled out the game."
In the second game, the Horn regulars returned to the lineup, but Fountain Hills refused to flinch, playing its way to an early 5-1 lead.
Behind standout serving by Tori Wilbanks and Jadyn Walden, the Lady Horns battled back into contention.
"The lead changed hands several times in the seesaw battle," Stonebrink said.
"When the score was tight at the end of the game and we hadn't missed a serve all night, we inexplicably missed three out of four serves."
Late in the game, Payson held a 25-24 lead, but couldn't cash in on game point when the ensuring serve ended up in the net.
The Falcons took advantage of the miscue by scoring the final two points to win the match.
Following the gut-wrenching loss, Stonebrink cited Walden and Laci Sommars for their standout serving.
Walden finished with nine service winners and Sommars had six, as well as three aces. Moore and Jade Heglie led the team in serve receiving.
At the net, Wilbanks chalked up seven kills and no errors in 10 attempts. Senior middle hitter Sarah Donovan contributed eight blocks and two "stuffs" or blocks for points.
The Lady Horns return to action Oct. 18 against Blue Ridge in Lakeside. Game time is 6:30 p.m.