The Lady Longhorns tuned up for tomorrow's (Saturday) 3A East regional championship tournament with a 3-0 regular season-ending win over one of the Valley's finest small school volleyball programs.
In Wilson Dome Oct. 31, Payson swept the Fountain Hills Falcons 25-18, 25-13 and 25-20.
The Lady Horns now travel to Blue Ridge to participate in the East tournament that tipped off last evening with regular season seven place finisher Alchesay traveling to sixth place Show Low.
The winner of that game will join Snowflake, Round Valley, Holbrook and Payson in tomorrow's tournament in Lakeside.
Lady Horn coach Arnold Stonebrink isn't sure of the opponent, but expects it will be Holbrook.
"We will play our first match at 1 p.m.," he said. "If (first round) matches end early, they may try to start the 1 p.m. match a little early."
The results of the East fray will be used to seed the region's top four finishers into the 3A state tournament to begin Nov. 11 at Peoria High School.
Prior to the Fountain Hills match, Stonebrink was a bit apprehensive saying the Falcons are a "perennially strong team that finished second in the West region and will be going to state."
He also entered the game without middle hitter Chris Deaton who broke her hand last week and is out for the season.
"Losing her was a blow for us, especially defensively," Stonebrink said.
Deaton was tied for the team lead in stuffs with 50 and her height -- 6 feet -- had been a real plus at the net for the Lady Horns.
Without Deaton and playing a quality team that had given the Horn fits all season long, Stonebrink expected the Lady Horns would have to scrap in the season finale.
"I expected a dog fight," he said. "Earlier in the year, in Fountain Hills, we were able to win a five game thriller and in the Chino Valley tournament, with the weird format, we were able to pull out a 55-51 win."
But, after watching his charges totally dismantle the Falcon express, the coach breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"The Lady Longhorns answered my challenge of elevating their game at the end of the season and won going away," Stonebrink said.
Third game a thriller
After taking a 2-0 lead in the match, the Lady Horns had their mettle tested in the crucial third game.
"It was the biggest drama of the night," Stonebrink said. "We jumped to a seven-point lead, but saw it shrink to 21-20."
After a side out that pushed the cushion to 22-20, Mollee Lee chalked up three consecutive service winners to nail down the game and match win.
Following the win, the coach cited the entire team for "a solid effort in all faces of the game -- hitting, setting, passing serving and blocking."
Senior outside hitter Tori Wilbanks led PHS at the net with 15 kills.
Hannah Armenta contributed eight, Brooke Cannon had four and Courtnay Ferkol had two.
Cannon, a senior setter, also turned out to be the team's point guard, dishing out 26 assists.
Following the win, Stonebrink praised Courtnay Ferkol, who he had tapped to take over Deaton's place in the starting lineup.
"Her statistics were encouraging," the coach said. "She filled in admirably and also picked up two blocks."
As a team, the Lady Horns finished with 10 blocks.
At the service line, Ferkol and Kyja Sommars led all servers.
"In 14 attempts, Kyja had four aces and no errors," Stonebrink said. "Courtnay, in 12 attempts, had three aces and no errors."
Jade Heglie drew praise for her serve receiving that negated a pair of Falcon servers who had given the Lady Horns fits earlier in the season.
With the win over Fountain Hills now in the stat books, Stonebrink is focusing on a practice strategy to prepare the Lady Horns for the East tournament.
"I will challenge them to make their serves 5 percent tougher, to pass 10 points higher and hit 10 points higher," he said. "I think that's the keys to winning the regional tournament and keep going deep into the state tournament."