The Lady Longhorns are scratching and clawing to earn an East runner-up finish and an advantageous seed into the regional tournament.
Payson can nail down the regular season silver medal by beating Snowflake today, Tuesday, in Snowflake.
If the Lady Horns can clip the Lobos, both Snowflake and Payson would end the regular season with 7-3 records. But, Payson would be awarded the second seed into the regional tournament, because the team would have two match wins over the Lobos.
However if the Lady Horns lose today, they will fall to a third or fourth seed and would have to beat the Yellow Jackets in the regional tournament to earn an automatic seed to state.
"Finishing No. 4 at regionals would throw us at the mercy of the power point system," coach Arnold Stonebrink said. "The top three (form each region) get to go to state and the final four state berths go to the top remaining power points teams."
A win over Snowflake today, however, would send Payson into a regional tournament second round game against the winner of the Show Low vs. Alchesay first-round clash.
"The winner of that match automatically goes to state by finishing no worse than third," Stonebrink said. "So this game (vs. Snowflake) is huge."
The Lady Horns set the stage for tonight's showdown with a 3-0 win over Alchesay Oct. 18 in Wilson Dome. Just two days earlier, the Lady Horns handcuffed Blue Ridge 3-2.
"It was a good week for us, not only did we win two matches, but Snowflake did us a favor by knocking off Blue Ridge the same night we defeated Alchesay," Stonebrink said.
Entering today's regular season ending games, Round Valley leads the East standings with an 8-1 mark. At 7-2, Snowflake is second and Payson is clinging to third at 6-3.
With 5-4 credentials, Blue Ridge remains in contention.
Stonebrink is calling tonight's match in Lobo land, "Our biggest of the year, I hope a lot of Payson folks show up to root us on."
The coach predicts the keys to a victory will be "playing smart, playing with energy and endurance, and passing well, so we can run our offense."
Stonebrink is counting his blessings that the Lady Horns were able to slip past Alchesay while playing with an untested lineup.
"Mollee Lee sat out the first game to make up for missing a practice and Hannah (Armenta) tweaked her ankle against Blue Ridge, so we decided to rest her, which was a last-minute decision."With insufficient practice time to go over rotations and switches, the Lady Horn offense and defense sputtered and chugged in the early going.
"We even got penalized a point for doing a wrong substitution," Stonebrink said. "That was my fault, I didn't do a very good job of explaining things to the girls."
Midway through the first game, the Lady Horns trailed 11-8 and appeared unable to adjust to the lineup changes.
But, PHS rallied with a 17-5 run to salvage the victory.
Stonebrink cited the two outside hitters who replaced Lee and Armenta, Bailey Randall and Rose Hardt, for their spirited play.
Back-row specialist Kristin Remonda was also lauded for her serving and passing.
The normal starters returned for the second game, but the team struggles continued.
"Hannah was having a rough time with hitting and I finally replaced her with Bailey toward the end," Stonebrink said.
In the third and final game, Armenta returned to lead the Lady Horns to a 10-point victory.
In the three-game win, Jenna Robertson led the team with nine kills, setter Cydney Figueroa had seven aces and Segan Cline finished with seven digs and five aces.
Following tonight's region games, the East tournament begins at 10 a.m. Oct. 27 in Snowflake. The eventual champ will be decided later that evening.