Defending state runner-up Ganado High School proved to be a thorn in the Lady Longhorns' side during the two days of the Payson Invitational Volleyball Tournament.
After being swept, 2-0 by Ganado in a Sept. 2 seeding tournament, the Horns lost again 2-0 to the Hornets in the following day's consolation shoot out.
Payson then battled back through the loser's bracket to the consolation championship match only to be stung again by the Hornets. Payson did manage a win in the opening game, but dropped the second clash and the rubber game.
Following the tournament, which drew 18 of the state's finest teams to Wilson Dome and the old Payson High School gymnasium, coaches selected Lady Longhorn senior middle hitter Sarah Donovan to the all-tournament team.
Coach Arnold Stonebrink also lauded Tori Wilbanks and Jade Heglie for their contributions.
"Tori was actually our most effective hitter and Jade was phenomenal in the back row," he said. "We had some good efforts out of several players." The tournament tipped off with rapid-fire action that featured three pools of six teams each playing round robins.
Payson finished 4-4, sweeping Joseph City, splitting with Page and Duncan and losing 2-0 to Flagstaff.
The Lady Horns' fourth place finish in the black pool sent Payson into opening-day evening battles against two other teams, Mogollon and Ganado, which had finished fourth in the gold and purple pools.
The Lady Horns split with Mogollon before dropping the two to the Hornets.
On the second day of play, Payson opened consolation bracket action with 2-0 victories over Wickenburg and Mogollon before being swept by Ganado.
With the loss, Payson fell into the loser's bracket where they beat Mogollon 2-0, but in the tournament finale, lost the championship to Ganado.
The tournament provided Stonebrink and his fellow coaches the opportunity to preview the new "libero" rule that allows teams to designate a player -- who must wear an opposite-colored jersey from her teammates -- to play the back row the entire match.
For Payson, Safford-transfer Brittany Moore manned the slot.
Some teams chose not to field a libero player.
"(The new rule is) great because (it) really solidifies the back row and makes the team defense much better," Stonebrink said.
Moore, the coach said, is the starter at libero but he wouldn't hesitate using Heglie there.
"We are fortunate to have two (players) who can play the position," Stonebrink added.
The Lady Horns return to the court Sept. 6 at Estrella Foothills. Game times are 4 p.m. (freshmen), jayvee (5:30 p.m.) and 6 p.m. (varsity).