Slowing Round Valley outside hitters Cassidi Donaldson and Ashley Slade will be the keys to Lady Horn hopes of beating the Elks in the first round of the state tournament.
The 3A conference match will be played at 11 a.m. today at Peoria High School. It will be one of eight matches played today in Peoria where the top 16 teams from around the state have gathered to battle for the state title. Quarterfinal matches will be contested this evening and semifinals and the championship tomorrow, Saturday.
Throughout the week in after-school practice sessions, coach Arnold Stonebrink's goal has been to devise strategy to slow Donaldson and Slade, who played huge roles in the Elks two regular season wins over PHS.
"We will try to limit the damage Donaldson and Slade do to us by tracking them with our blockers and making someone else step up to beat us," he said. "We'll also try to have a more diversified offense than last time, so our hitters won't always have a brick wall to hit against."
The Elks and the Lady Horns first met Sept. 25 in the Eagar Ensphere dome, where RV pounded its way to 3-0 victory by scores of 25-21, 25-18 and 33-31.
In that game, Donaldson and Slade dominated at the net, racking up 25 kills.
Following the loss, Stonebrink lauded RV, saying, "They served smartly, set up consistently solid blocks and hit with fury."
Payson did receive a stellar effort from Jenna Robertson, who recorded a team team leading nine-kills and five stuffs.
Segan Cline finished with 14 digs.
The highlight of that match occurred in the third game when eight straight game points were saves by both teams.
But then, with RV leading 32-31, Payson misfired to give the game and the match to the Elks.
The two longtime East region rivals met for a second time Oct. 11 in Wilson Dome.
"Our plan in the second match was to do a better job of putting good blocks on Donaldson and Slade," Stonebrink said.
"We had success in doing that -- they had fewer than half the total of kills they had in the first match."
As improved as the Lady Horns were in the second go-around, they came out on the short end of RV's 3-2-match win.
Payson won the first two games, 26-11 and 26-24 before losing the final three, 25-23, 25-22 and 15-13.
"The last game was especially brutal," Stonebrink said. "We blew a 13-9 lead by giving up the last six points."
After watching his team fade in the crucial final minutes, Stonebrink has stepped up the team's conditioning plan, as it prepared for today's state match.
If the Lady Horns can reap revenge on RV and send the Elks bugling home to the White Mountains, PHS would probably play state top-ranked, North region champion and undefeated Monument Valley in the second round.
"I got to watch them for five minutes at the Coconino Tournament and they were quite good, very disciplined," Stone-brink said.
"Reservation teams have a reputation for being able to pass well and dig up about anything you pound at them. MV is the best, among the reservation teams, for that."