The Lady Horns' East region title aspirations took a direct hit, during a 3-0 loss to the Round Valley Elks.
Entering the fray, played Sept. 25 in the Ensphere dome in Eagar, Lady Horn coach Arnold Stonebrink expressed his concerns about taking on a homestanding Elk team that has been up and down all season long.
"Last night, they were definitely up," he said upon the team's return to Payson. "They served smartly, set up consistently solid blocks and hit with fury."
Payson lost by scores of 25-21, 25-18 and 33-31.
A shortcoming of the Lady Horns all evening long was the team's inability to defend the Elks' power game.
"Their outside hitters racked up a tremendous 25 kills against us," Stonebrink said.
While the loss was a tough one to absorb, mostly because it dropped the team to 6-2 overall and 1-1 in the region, the defeat did yield a few bright spots.
Among them were Jenna Robertson's team-leading nine kills and five stuffs. Hannah Armenta chipped in with six kills, 12 digs and led the team in serve receiving. Laci Sommars produced five kills and paced the team's hitting efficiently.
Segan Cline finished with 14 digs.
In the first game loss, Payson led only once, at 2-1. After that, the team fell behind 10-4, due to a red-hot serving run by RV.
"They had very smart servers," Stonebrink said. "They were able to get us to scramble forward to try and reach the short serves and then they would follow with deep floaters over our heads."
When it was the Lady Horns turn to serve, they coughed up dinks without much authority.
"We were getting the serves in, but not with the needed velocity and movement on the ball," Stonebrink said.
PHS's pitter-pat serves allowed the Lady Elks to easily pass to awaiting teammates.
"We had to dig ourselves out the whole game," Stonebrink said. "We fought back to within 23-12, but the Elks scored the last two points."
The second game was almost an instant replay of the opener, as Payson fell behind early, then clawed back to close the RV cushion to 18-17. But only minutes later, RV went on a 7-1 run to nail down the victory.
"Again we were serving lollipops that the Elks were able to pass easily, except at the end, when our girls ratcheted the serves up little bit," Stonebrink said.
"Their outside hitters began to hit the ball with great speed and accuracy and were able to hit hard cross-court," Stonebrink said. "Their blockers also began to exert their will; our hitters turned away with spiked balls flying back at us off the Elk blocks."
In the third game, Payson rallied from an early five-point deficit to lead 20-15.
Only minutes later, RV used its hitting and blocking power to close to within 23-19.
The latter moments of the game might have been the highlight of the match.
"Eight straight game points were saves by both teams," Stonebrink said. "It was fun to watch, although nerve-wracking."
With RV leading 32-31, Payson misfired on a miscue that cost the team the game and the match.
"We blocked a ball straight up at about the seven-foot line that fell between two girls who could have easily passed it," Stonebrink said.
The team takes a break from rugged East region play Sept. 29 to travel to Chino Valley, where the Lady Horns will participate in the Cougar Invitational.