Off-season volleyball play on the Club Rim team has prospective Lady Longhorn team members better prepared for fall high school action.
"The girls were able to improve their game and will be better for it," said Club Rim and Lady Longhorn varsity coach Arnold Stonebrink.
The Club Rim team was formed two years ago to give aspiring prep volleyball players the opportunity to hone their skills in the off-season, much like athletes in Phoenix and Tucson.
The team wrapped up the spring campaign May 5, at a Phoenix tournament that drew some of the finest squads in the state.
After struggling during the opening rounds, Club Rim was assigned to the Division III pool, where they finished 3-0 as division champs.
"It was nice to finish the year with the wins and the championship," Stonebrink said.
The Payson team opened D-III play with a 2-1 win over Club Cactus.
"The girls fought and scrapped their way to the victory," Stonebrink said. "Mollee Lee's .500 hitting and Brittney McDaniel's .429 hitting led us, as did Hannah Armenta's four aces."
Next up for Club Rim was a match-up against Club Rage.
After winning the first game 17-2, Payson lost the second to set up a crucial rubber match.
Payson fell behind early, 6-3, but then rode Armenta's seven aces and Marlow Galloway's stellar serve, receiving to a 14-11 lead.
"We then hung on for a 16-14 win to earn a spot in the division championship against Desert Sky," Stonebrink said.
Despite suffering the exhaustion and rigors of playing six matches in one day, Club Rim defeated Desert Sky, 2-0.
"We played strong, efficient ball," Stonebrink said.
Following the team's return to Payson, the coach cited Jenna Robertson for her standout efforts, which included 22 kills and a .311 hitting mark. Against Desert Sky, she had eight kills and eight spikes.
Heather Bomar also drew praise for her serving prowess, with two aces and no errors in 10 attempts.
Freshman Reghan Flake also turned in an exceptional effort as the team's starting setter.
"She did a great job of running the offense for someone so young," Stonebrink said. "Her setting became more accurate as the day wore on."
Also a key to the team's ascension to the crown was the passing of Segan Cline and the serving of Armenta, who chalked up 21 aces during the tournament.
Where are the 18-year-olds?
Although Club Rim entered the 18-and-under division, the team was played with athletes much younger.
"The ‘18' was a misnomer. We didn't have any girls on the team that were 18," Stonebrink said. "Half of our team was composed of freshmen, but we didn't have the numbers to field a 16 (year olds) team, so we entered the 18 and took our lumps."
Playing against older and more experienced teams during the regular season, Club Rim struggled.
"We won three out of 20 (games) and made a lot of mistakes characteristic of an inexperienced team," Stonebrink said.
Also in the regular season, Stonebrink doled out equal court time to all the players, no matter their experience.
"But in the championship tournament, I played, almost exclusively, my ‘A' lineup, which included sophomores and juniors," the coach said.
Although the club season was sometimes frustrating, especially when pitted against more veteran metropolitan area teams, Stonebrink is sure the experience will bode well for next year's Lady Longhorns.
"We'll be better," he said.