Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink has been involved in more than a 100 prep matches, but never one as fierce as a Sept. 5 showdown against Estrella Foothills.
"It was probably the closest, and maybe the wildest match I've been a part of," he said at the conclusion of the Lady Horns pulsating 3-2 victory.
Rendering the match a nail-biter was the fact three of the five games had to go into overtime before a victor could be crowned.
The Lady Horns won the first two games, 29-27 and 25-17, but when Stonebrink substituted his reserves in during the third, Estrella jumped on the winning track with a 25-16 victory. In the fourth game, Estrella continued its hot streak, winning 27-25 in OT. That victory set the stage for a crucial fifth and deciding game which turned into another thriller.
The outcome in the seesaw shootout was in doubt throughout until the Lady Horn survived 17-15.
"It was great to win a close one," Stonebrink said.
In the fourth game, after the coach had returned his starters to the floor, Payson assumed a 22-18 lead and appeared well on their way to victory.
But, the gritty Wolves battled back, to force an overtime decision, which the Lady Horns lost.
In the rubber match, Payson trailed 13-10 before a side out call gave the Lady Horns the ball.
"Brooke Cannon served two crucial winners to tie it up," Stonebrink said. "We then were facing match point at 14-13 but Mollee Lee passed a perfect ball to Brooke, who set it to Tori (Wilbanks) for a resounding kill."
Wilbanks later scored the winning point on an ace.
The senior outside hitter led the team in kills with 28, which Stonebrink suspects could be a team record if record books had been kept through the years.
"It certainly is a record on teams I've coached," he said.
Laci Sommars led the team in hitting with six kills in 12 attempts and no errors.
Jade Heglie, Kyja Sommars and Mollee Lee drew praise from Stonebrink for their prolific serve receiving.
Courtnay Ferkol contributed four aces to the Payson cause.
Coach calls PI "a success for us."
Posting a second place finish in pool play, a 4-0 record in seeded action and a fifth place in the Payson Invitational championship bracket was the best showing ever turned in by a Lady Horn team in the nine-year history of the tournament.
"The girls played very well; their hitting was on for nearly every match and it was probably our No. 1 strength along with setting," Stonebrink said. "It's hard to single out players, because the girls played so well as a team."
The annual tournament was contested Sept. 1 and 2 in Wilson Dome and PHS gymnasium.
In opening day pool play, the Lady Horns beat Mogollon 21-10 but then fell 16-14. Against Wickenburg, the Lady Horns were victorious 21-18 and 16-13. The win streak continued with victories over Mingus 21-12 and 21-17.
Payson split with Coconino, winning the first game 21-9, but losing the second 20-19. Payson beat Florence 21-17 in the opener but then dropped a 15-13 decision.
The team's 7-3 record earned PHS a second place finish in the pool and the right to play the runner-ups from the two other pools.
The Lady Horns won both, beating Estrella Foothills (21-14 and 14-13) and Ganado (21-10 and 21-9).
On the tournament's second day, Payson defeated Estrella Foothills (25-15 and 25-20) but later lost to No. 1 seeded Page (25-16) and (25-20).
That loss dropped the Lady Longhorns into the loser's bracket where PHS fell to Blue Ridge 2-1. The Lady Horns lost the first game, 25-17, won the second 25-18 but dropped the third and deciding game 11-8.
That loss eliminated the Lady Longhorns from the invitational.
Following the tournament, Stonebrink praised libero Jade Heglie for her passing ability, Wilbanks for her 71 kills and backup setter Cydney Figueroa for her serving.
The Lady Horns return to the Wilson Dome court today, Tuesday, against a Snowflake team that is expected to contend for the East region title.
Game times are 4:30 p.m. (frosh), 5:30 p.m. (jayvee) and 6:30 p.m. (varsity).