Senior outside hitter and 2005 all-region selection Tori Wilbanks will return to the Lady Longhorn volleyball team in time to play Sept. 1 and 2 in the Payson Invitational Tournament.
Wilbanks had been sidelined most of the early season with a knee injury.
Her return buoys the team as it prepares for a run at the tournament title. Wilbanks has for the past two seasons been one of the Lady Horns' top guns. Last fall, she further enhanced her game by playing on the first ever Club Rim team.
Coach Arnold Stonebrink said had she not healed, her absence would have been a huge blow to Lady Horn hopes.
During last year's invitational, Stonebrink called Wilbanks "our most effective hitter."
In addition to having Wilbanks available, Stonebrink can call upon three-year varsity starter, Brooke Cannon.
"She is probably the clear-cut leader as our setter, or quarterback, she does very well," Stonebrink said.
When Cannon is not playing high school volleyball, she is a member of the Valley-based Club Red 17-years-and-under team.
Jade Heglie and Mollee Lee are also veterans who can supply leadership and skilled play.
Heglie will play the libero, or defensive specialist, position and Lee will man the outside hitter slot.
Among the newcomers on the varsity roster is sophomore Jenna Robertson, who played outside hitter on last year's freshmen team.
This year, she has been converted to middle hitter.
"With her great athletic ability, vertical leap and reach -- she has very long arms -- we converted her over the summer," Stonebrink said. "She made the transition beautifully.
"She already was a tremendous blocker and her hitting and timing with Brooke on the quick sets are really coming along."
Action in the Payson Invitational tips off at 9 a.m. Friday with play in three pools - purple, gold and black -- of six teams each.
The results of pool will be used to seed the 18 teams into a double elimination tournament to be played Saturday.
Play wraps up on Friday at 8 p.m. and resumes the following day at 8 a.m.
The Lady Longhorns are aligned in the purple pool along with Mogollon, Mingus, Florence, Wickenburg and Coconino. In pool play, Payson has games at 9 a.m. (vs. Mogollon), 11 a.m. (vs. Wickenburg), noon (vs. Mingus), 1:30 p.m. (vs. Coconino) and 3:30 p.m. (vs. Florence). The 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. games will be in the old Payson High School gym. The others will be in Wilson dome where two courts will be set up. Beginning at 5 p.m. the first day of the tournament, the teams in the three pools will be seeded against others based on how they finished in pool play. For example, the first place finishers play one another as do the runners up, third place finishers and so on in a round robin.
Ganado Hornets: A nemesis
In the 2005 tournament, a season in which the Lady Horns earned a berth to state, Payson finished fourth in the black pool. That sent Payson into the opening day evening battles against Ganado and Mogollon, which had finished fourth the gold and purple pools. The Lady Horns split with Mogollon and lost two matches to the Hornets.
In the second day double elimination tournament, Payson opened with two wins before again being swept by Ganado.
The Hornets will play this year in the black pool.
The Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets enter the tournament as two-time defending Payson Invitational champions.
There is to admission charge to the tournament and concessions stands will be open.