Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink says his goal is to boost his charges' mental toughness before crucial 3A East region competition tips off in earnest Sept. 20 at Alchesay.
In early season games and in the Sept. 10 Flagstaff Coconino Invitational Tournament, the team members have shown tendencies to lose focus, concentration and then confidence.
"We don't play complete games; sometimes it's our serve receiving that's off, other times it's our hitting or sometimes our passing," Stonebrink said. "We have to put it all together so we are good in all (facets of the game)."
The coach pointed to the first three matches of the Sept. 10 tournament as examples of a lackluster approach.
"We were not competitive in any of those (matches)," Stonebrink said. "We needed to get our heads into the games and we didn't."
In the tournament opener against Flagstaff, Payson lost 15-9 and 15-8. In the second match, Payson fell to Tuba City 15-7 and 15-11.
During the second-game loss to Tuba, Payson built an 11-8 lead before lackluster hitting allowed the Warriors to rally from behind.
"Our hitting deserted us and it spelled defeat," Stonebrink said.
In the third match against Holbrook -- a team that had beaten the Lady Horns 2-1 two days earlier in Wilson Dome --ayson fell to 0-3 in the tournament, losing 15-12 and 15-8.
With the winless record in the opening three games, which were pool play, Payson took the No. 10 seed into an afternoon double elimination tournament. Pitted against No. 6 Chinle, the Lady Horns dropped the opener 15-10, but then rebounded behind improved passing and better serve receiving to win the next two games 15-8 and 15-6.
"We called up Mollee Lee (from jayvee) and she did a really good job in the back row along with Jade (Heglie) and Brittany (Moore)," Stonebrink said. "Sierra Sommars helped out with three kills and no errors."
The victory pushed the Lady Horns into the second round of the winner's bracket against second-seeded and homestanding Coconino.
"That was probably our best match of the tournament," Stonebrink said.
In first-game action, the Lady Horns and the Panthers locked up in a seesaw battle before Payson pulled away late to win 21-17. The Lady Horns continued their hot play, dumping Coco 21-14 to claim a 2-0 match victory.
Stonebrink cited the hitting of Sara Donovan and Sierra Sommars as huge contributors to the upset. Donovan finished with nine kills and Sommars had three.
Lee, Heglie and Moore also drew praise from the coach for their stellar serve receiving.
With the victory, surprising Payson advanced into the final four of the winner's bracket. Facing No. 3 Flagstaff, Payson trailed the entire first game before falling 21-14. In the second game, Payson and the Eagles were tied at one point 18-18, but the Lady Horns gave up the final three points to lose 21-18.
Tori Wilbanks led the Lady Horns at the net with four kills. Sierra Sommars had three kills.
The loss to the Eagles dropped Payson into the loser's bracket against Chinle -- an old foe from the years PHS was a member of the 4A Grand Canyon region.
After winning the first game 15-4, the Lady Horns dropped the second 15-11.
In the crucial rubber match, Payson built a 14-8 lead only to have the Wildcats score eight straight points and win 16-14.
With the loss, the Lady Horns had to settle for a tie for fifth-place tournament finish.
Following the team's return to Payson, Stonebrink lauded Sierra Sommars for her 23 kills and eight blocks, and Donovan for her serving.
"Sarah had 43 (successful) serves with three aces and no errors," he said.
Jadyn Walden contributed six aces and Ashley Anesen tallied seven blocks.
Following the showdown in Alchesay, the Lady Horns play three crucial East region games against Blue Ridge (Sept. 22), Round Valley (Sept. 27) and Show Low (Sept. 29).