Following two tournament appearances and six non-region matches, the Lady Longhorns finally have the opportunity to begin pursuit of an East championship and a berth into the 3A state tournament.
The golden chance is on deck for Sept. 20 in Wilson Dome against longtime East rival Show Low.
"We're excited about finally starting regional play and seeing how we measure up against the other teams in the East," coach Arnold Stonebrink said.
The Lady Horns approach the all-important portion of the campaign with a 5-1 regular season record, a third-place finish in the Payson Invitational and a fourth-place showing in the Flagstaff Coconino Tournament.
In the team's most recent outing, Sept. 15 against Globe, the Lady Horns won three back-to-back games by scores of 25-17, 25-12 and 25-14.
"Globe wasn't one of our strongest opponents, so I challenged the girls to not only win, but to win convincingly and get something from the match that would be beneficial for us," Stonebrink said. "The girls were able to do that."
Among the accomplishments the coach cited was setter Cydney Figueroa's ability to run quick sets (short sets just above the net) and slides (middle hitter runs behind the setter parallel to the net) with Jenna Robertson.
Also, Stonebrink said, Figueroa refined her ‘A' sets, which "are short sets behind her head just above the net with Laci Sommars, and shoot sets, which are sets on the outside with a very low arc, with Hannah Armenta and Mollee Lee."
Figueroa was effective on most of the gadget plays, which helped Payson score several kills.
"A side benefit of those types of sets is it's entertaining for the fans, but the main benefit is that usually the opponent can put no more than one girl on the block," Stonebrink said.
"Which means, opponents are usually off balance and Payson establishes a normal setting and hitting game."
The coach compares the strategy to that used by football coaches.
"A good running game sets up the passing attack," he said. "Hopefully, we can use the quick sets, slides, ‘A' sets and shoots against tougher opponents to increase the effectiveness off our hitting game."
Individually, Armenta led the Lady Horns with 13 kills, Robertson finished with 10, Lee had nine and Sommars four.
"Also producing was Janae Blaylock," Stonebrink said. "Playing in the place of the injured Christina Deaton, Janae had three kills and no errors."
Lee led the team in service winners with 13 and tied with Armenta for the lead in digs with seven. Figueroa paced the Lady Horns in assists, tallying 31.
In freshmen action, the PHS plebes won 25-23 and 25-14, to improve to 5-1 on the season.
The jayvees are now 4-2 after 25-18 and 15-18 victories over Globe.
Prior to defeating the West region's Globe, the Lady Horns flexed their East muscle with a 3-0 match win over a Winslow Bulldog team that could contend for North honors.
Winslow fell Sept. 11 in Wilson Dome, 25-10, 25-22 and 25-18.
"We came out on fire and never let up," Stonebrink said. "Led by six aces, three from Cydney Figueroa, we played nearly a flawless game and were never challenged."
In the second game however, the Bulldogs took advantage of Payson lackluster play to carve out a 15-8 lead.
"Luckily for us, we woke up in time to salvage the game," Stonebrink said. "Two aces and great serve receiving by Segan Cline enabled us to make a comeback."
Also contributing to the rally was stellar serve receiving by Segan Cline, five kills from Robertson and Lee's potent serving.
But in the early minutes of the rubber game, the wheels came off the Lady Horn wagon.
"The beginning of the third game was ever uglier that that of the second game," Stonebrink said.
After watching his team fall behind 12-6, Stonebrink reached his limit of tolerance.
"I called time out and chewed out the girls nearly as much as I ever have," he said.
His well thought out strategy worked.
"Instead of being defiant and defensive, the girls took their medicine well and responded by closing the match on a 19-3 run," Stonebrink said.
The key to the victory was Robertson's nine consecutive service winners after Payson had carved out a 16-15 lead.
During the stint, Robertson, used an unpredictable jump serve to foil the Dogs.
In the Coconino tournament played Sept. 8 in Flagstaff, the Horns opened with wins over Flagstaff, Tuba City and Sedona.
But after losing a second match to Flagstaff, the Lady Horns fell into the loser's bracket, where they beat Camp Verde, and once again, Tuba City.
Payson then earned a berth in the final four, with 15-10 and 15-12 wins over Coconino.
But in the semifinals, the Lady Horns were eliminated by a 2-1 loss to Sedona.
For the tournament, Stonebrink tapped Lee, the team's most valuable player.
"She served tough, hit about .250 for eight matches and was our strongest passer," he said. "She has really come into her own in all facets of play this year."
Game times Thursday against Show Low are 4:30 (frosh), 5:30 (jayvee) and 6:30 p.m. (varsity).