Although close, hard-fought defeats are often tough to absorb, Lady Longhorn coach Arnold Stonebrink views a 3-2 loss to Florence as a possible team builder.
"The loss should provide some benefit, as long as we learn from it," the coach said. "The match exposed the fact that we need a more diversified attack; that we can't rely on Jenna (Robertson) having an outstanding hitting game every night."
Also the loss to Florence, which occurred Aug. 28 on the road, might have resulted in some strategy changes down the schedule road.
"We need to be aware of the opponent's tendencies and make adjustments early to counter those tendencies," Stonebrink said.
The coach also learned from the match that the Lady Longhorns' serving is suspect. The team has a goal of making good on 85 percent of its serves, but in the defeat, the squad hit only 82 percent.
The answer to improving the Lady Horns' serving attack might be to show more patience.
"Slowing down and taking time on the serve, to better ensure a good toss and hit, will improve our percentage and ultimately, our serving efficiency," he said.
Stonebrink was unsure why the team members were hastening their serves, but reasoned it could have been nervousness or fatigue.
"They seemed to rush their serves, instead of slowing down, and doing a nice, steady routine like a golfer or free-throw shooter does before each shot," Stonebrink said.
In the non-region match, Payson dropped the first two games, 25-20 and 25-23.
But the Lady Horns came roaring back to win 26-24 and 25-24, which set up an all-important rubber game.
In the crucial fifth and final showdown, the Lady Horns stumbled 15-12.
In the finale, "Florence played smart, efficient ball and Payson made the bulk of the mistakes," Stonebrink said.
"We were being shellacked 14-9, before making a run of three points."
Eventually, however, the Lady Longhorn rally was too little too late, as a Gopher outside hitter ended the match with a vicious spike.
"It's difficult to win when you gift wrap four of your opponent's 15 points in the form of service errors, which is exactly what we did," the coach said.
Stonebrink also called the first two losses frustrating, mostly because mental mistakes cost the team points.
"Florence was serving short, but our girls were not making the adjustment of moving up to better receive the ball," he said. "Once they made that adjustment, their serve receiving became solid and stayed solid the whole night."
Entering the third game, the Lady Longhorns were facing a possible three-game sweep, after falling behind 20-15.
But, like the U.S. Calvary charging to the rescue in 1950s western movies, the Lady Horns rushed back into contention.
"We roared back, courtesy of timely serving by Hannah Armenta, strong hitting by Jenna Robertson and pinpoint passing," Stonebrink said.
In pulling out the win, the Lady Horns survived a Gopher match point at 24-23 and then went on to score the last three points.
In the fourth game, the Lady Horns were firing on all cylinders, much like a fine-tuned V-8.
Florence, meanwhile, was struggling.
"I told the girls to take what the Gophers gave and to let Florence make the mistakes," Stonebrink said.
Following the match, Stonebrink lauded the play of Laci Sommars, Cydney Figueroa, Segan Cline, Armenta and Robertson.
"Jenna had another outstanding match, she was the only one who was solid in hitting all three matches," he said.
"Hanna played spectacular back-row defense, recording 11 digs and a team-best 2.18 in serve receiving."
Figueroa, he said, recorded several well-placed tips, had four kills and 32 assists.
"Cline showed great hustle in the back row, as she picked up a team best 17 digs," the coach said.
In freshman action, coach Cassie Bradford's charges improved to 3-0, with a 2-1 win by scores of 25-17, 23-25 and 15-5.
The jayvees, coached by Judy Perham, won 25-25 and 25-8, to up their record to 2-1.
Next up for the Lady Horns is a visit Sept. 5 to Fountain Hills. Game times are 4 (frosh) 5 (jayvee) and 6 p.m. (varsity).