It'll be déjvu all over again for the Lady Longhorns when the team opens state tournament play Friday at Peoria High School.
The feeling of having previously experienced a sensation will be due to the team's first round opponent -- longtime East region rival Round Valley.
But the sense of having faced the Elks before is not just a fleeting rumpus for the PHS players.
In the regular season, Round Valley twice took match wins over Payson on the Lady Elks' way to the East title.
The oddity in the pairings, however, is not that two teams from the same region are playing one another in the first round, it's that the Lady Horns enter the state finals clutching a higher seed than RV.
"It's kind of funny," coach Arnold Stonebrink said. "They won the regular season championship (Payson tied for second), finished ahead of us in the regional tournament and beat us both times we played them. But we have the eight seed and they have No. 9."
The answer of how a Payson team that seemingly accomplished less during the regular season than did Round Valley can be found in the power -system that is in its first year of existence.
"The only reason we are ahead of them in power points is because we played only one team lower than 3A (2A Valley Christian), whereas they played Joseph City and Mogollon, both from 1A," Stonebrink said.
In short, the power-points system rewards strength of schedule and Payson's slate was deemed tougher than Round Valley's.
The first-round state game, pitting Payson against RV, will be played at 9 a.m. The winner will qualify for a quarterfinal clash at 5 p.m., also on Friday.
Semifinal games and the state championship will be played Nov. 3, also at Peoria H.S.
If the Lady Horns can find a way to reverse their losing fortunes against RV and come away with a win, Payson would probably play North region champion Monument Valley. The top-ranked MV team enters the state tournament as the only 3A team undefeated in regular season play. MV opens the tournament against No. 16 Estrella Foothills, almost a sure win.
PHS cages Cougars, fall to Lobos
In regional tournament action Oct. 26 in Snowflake, the second-seeded Lady Horns opened with a 3-0 win over the Show Low Cougars.
But in the quarterfinals, Payson was defeated by a red-hot Snowflake team that had fallen earlier to the Lady Horns in the regular season finale.
"We lost to Snowflake to finish third, I really wanted to see us at least make it to the championship, but it just wasn't our day," Stonebrink said.
In whipping Show Low 25-3 in the opener, the Lady Horns rode the serving expertise of Cydney Figueroa who served 18 straight winners, six of which were aces.
"That's the greatest wipeout in one game I've ever been associated with," Stonebrink said.
In the second game, Show Low was much more competitive, but PHS survived 25-19.
The Lady Horns wrapped up the match win with a 25-22 third-game victory.
Service and hitting errors in the final two games allowed the Cougars to keep the final count respectable.
In the match, Figueroa led the team with 20 service winners, seven aces and 26 assists. Hannah Armenta drew praise from the coach for her serving average, 2.82 out of 3.00, and her 16 kills in 20 attempts. Mollee Lee tacked on six kills.
The win propelled the Lady Horns into a semifinal match against the Lobos, which Snowflake won by 25-20, 25-18 and 25-18 measures.
Snowflake reached the semifinals by beating Blue Ridge 3-0 earlier in the day.
After whipping Payson, the Lobos went on to upset RV 3-0 in the tournament championship.
"The Lobos had a heck of a Saturday," Stonebrink said. "Three straight 3-0 blowouts over Blue Ridge, Payson and Round Valley."
Following the loss to Snowflake, the coach attributed the defeat to Payson's predictable hitting.
"Janae Blalock, one of our middle hitters, had only four spikes the whole match," he said. Because of that, Snowflake was able to camp their block on the outside and shut down our outside hitters.
"Also, we didn't run as many shoots (low-arc sets) to the outside hitters. These are timing plays that throw off the defense, and generally result in one- or even zero-man blocks."
The team's inability to run the shoots was due to less-than-stellar passing and timing that wasn't quite right.
Stonebrink lauded Segan Cline for a six-point serving run, Jenna Robertson for her eight kills, and Laci Sommars for her three stuffs.