Lady Longhorn volleyball players are on a three-week run that ranks as the finest winning streak in the program's past two decades.
"It's been an exciting few weeks for Payson volleyball," coach Arnold Stonebrink said. "We went on a nine-match winning streak, we won our first tournament (Chino Valley Invitational) and now we are in sole possession of first (place) in the region."
With 7-1 East credentials, the Lady Horns appear to be a sure thing for the postseason, but the players will want to hold on to the top spot in order to earn an advantageous seed into both the regional and state tournaments.
The East region tournament will be played Nov. 4 at Blue Ridge, on Nov. 10 in the 3A finals and Nov. 11 in Chandler.
Finishing first would also give the Lady Longhorns their first East region championship since 1994.
The highlight of the Lady Horns impressive run might have been Oct. 3 in Wilson Dome where PHS gutted out an exciting 3-2 win over the Holbrook Roadrunners.
Both teams entered the fray tied for first place in the region with 5-1 records.
"We were playing for sole possession of first," Stonebrink said.
Also at stake were pride and a healthy dose of payback. The Roadrunners dealt Payson its lone East defeat in a Sept. 7 showdown in Holbrook.
"When we played Holbrook before we had 49 hitting errors and Holbrook was able to tip and find the holes, particularly the deep corners," Stonebrink said. "So, I challenged the girls to cut the hitting errors in half and we worked on coming up with a defense to take away the deep corners."
The strategy worked to perfection as Payson rolled to a 25-18 opening game victory.
"The girls did a great job of covering the court and limiting Holbrook's kills," Stonebrink said.
But in the second game, the Runners rebounded for a 25-21 win.
"Holbrook began hitting away and I was really impressed with their attack," Stonebrink said.
The Lady Horns also were their own worst enemy, committing five service errors that stalled their offense.
In the third game, Payson returned to its more traditional defense and held game point at 24-23.
"But we were unable to cash in," Stonebrink said. "We lost 27-25."
Trailing 2-1 in the crucial match, the fourth game tipped off with the Lady Horns making a commitment to playing more their style.
"We wanted to get back to ‘Payson Ball', which is to pound the ball to the opposition, especially when the set is there," Stonebrink said.
The renewed determination paid off as Tori Wilbanks and Hannah Armenta led the team to a 25-17 victory.
"We won going away," Stonebrink said.
Payson's win tied the clash at 2-2 and set the stage for a single game showdown for all the marbles.
"It was a wild affair that featured serving runs and tense, nail-biting play," Stonebrink said.
Mollee Lee jump-started the Lady Horns with a four-point serving run but the Runners roared back to take a 6-4 lead.
"A 7-1 run fueled by the serving of Chelsea D'Arcangelo and Brooke Cannon gave us the lead again at 11-7," Stonebrink said.
But a gritty Holbrook bunch, refusing to wilt under the pressure, rallied to tie the game 11-11.
"Hannah's kill enabled us to finally side out," Stonebrink said. "Courtney Ferkol then served a tough ball that Holbrook was only able to send (back) as a free ball."
Armenta returned it with a kill to lift the Lady Horns to a 13-11 lead.
As tension heightened, Holbrook was unable to return Ferkol's ensuing serve to send the game to match point, 14-11.
"Courtney then coolly closed out the match by nailing an ace," Stonebrink said.
Following the all-important win, the coached praised his crew as a never-say-die team.
"The girls again showed a lot of fortitude and maturity in overcoming the 2-1 deficit," he said. "Instead of complaining or sulking, they dug down."
Wilbanks lead the team in kills with 25 and Armenta contributed 11.
Also for Payson, its two middle hitters -- Jenna Robertson and Christina Deaton -- came up big combining for 20 blocks, seven of which were stuffs.
Stonebrink called Lee's 22 service winners "critical to our win."
Second win over Lobos
Only two days after stinging the Yellow Jackets, the Lady Horns traveled to Snowflake where they claimed their second match win of the season over the Lobos.
In the early going, the Lady Horns struggled dropping the first two matches 25-17 and 25-19. But Payson came roaring back to win the final three games, 25-19, 25-21 and 15-16 to put the damper on Lobo upset hopes.
"The girls showed great maturing in fighting through adversity to come back from down 2-0 to win the match," Stonebrink said. "We've had six five-game matches this year and we've won all of them.
"That's a sign of great focus and desire."
The Lady Horns return to the Wilson Dome court tomorrow, Wednesday, in a non-region showdown against Fountain Hills. Game times are 4 p.m. for freshmen, 5 p.m. for jayvee and 6 p.m. for varsity.