It's out of the season-opening frying pan and into tournament fire for the Lady Longhorn volleyball team.
The hardwood squad survived its heated season debut, Aug. 30 in Globe by dousing the Tigers 25-14 and 24-19. Now, the Lady Horns must plunge into the inferno of playing in one of the state's most red hot small-school tournaments -- the 18-team Payson Invitational Sept. 2 and 3 in Wilson dome and the old PHS gymnasium.
Lady Horn coach Arnold Stonebrink has called the invitational a highlight of the early season because it attracts some of the finest teams in the state, including 1A state champ Joseph City, 1A state runner-up Mogollon and 3A state runner-up Ganado.
Of the 18 teams entered in the PI, 13 advanced to state tournaments last year.
Blue Ridge returns to the Invitational as the defending champions having nipped Flagstaff for the 2004 crown. The Lady Horns are the defending consolation championships.
Stonebrink also anticipates Florence could field a championship-contender in the tournament.
During the first day, the teams will be randomly placed into three pools of six teams each and play round robins.
The top three teams in each pool will advance to a second-day championship tournament. The bottom three finishers will advance to a consolation tournament.
Before the second-day begins, however, the teams will compete in seeding tournaments. The results of those games will be used to seed the teams into the championship and consolation tournaments. Those will both be played in a double elimination format.
There is no admission charge to the tournament.
In defeating Globe, the Lady Horns played the first game of the match with several varsity regulars relegated to the bench.
"We had a few kids miss practices here and there," he said. "So we ended up going with a ‘B' lineup; we pulled some girls up from jayvee."
The absence of the varsity regulars didn't slow the Lady Horn express as it steamed to a convincing 11-point win.
Among those jayvee players who were brought up to varsity was junior outside hitter Sami Novak.
"She did a wonderful job of passing the ball," the coach said.
In the second game, Stonebrink returned to his "A" team lineup and the crew responded by jumping out to an 11-2 lead.
"Then we hit a lull where (Globe) had a got a couple of hot servers we had trouble handling," Stonebrink said.
Although the Tigers pulled back to as close as four points, the Lady Horns hung on for the six-point victory and the match win.
Following the team's return to Payson, Stonebrink cited 5-11 sophomore Tori Wilbanks for her exceptional play.
"She was all over the place, a monster at the net," he said.
Wilbanks finished with a team high six kills and two blocks. Four of her kills were recorded in the first game when she was playing middle hitter.
In the second game, while playing outside hitter, Wilbanks had two kills.
Senior Sarah Donovan, who could start at middle hitter in the Payson Invitational, chalked up four kills and Jadyn Walden had three. Stonebrink also cited Ashley Anesin, Sierra Sommars and Autumn Staszek for their all-around play.
"Ashley had 11 service winners and two aces and Sierra had 11 service winners and one ace," he said. "Autumn's serve receiving and passing skills were fantastic."
Among the underclassmen, the junior varsity downed the Tigers 15-19 and 25-19.
The freshmen team won the first game 20-13, lost the second 24-19 and dropped the rubber game 16-4.