Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink leaves little doubt that a recent appearance in the Florence Summer Invitational Tournament was the stuff great coaching memories are made.
"The tourney was a blast, not only because we had good success, but also because I got to coach nine girls that had superb attitudes and never quit," he said. "They were a joy to coach."
In the eight-team tournament, played July 19 at Florence High School, the Payson girls came within a whisper of winning the summer title.
Pitted against Apache Junction in the third game of the championship match, Payson could only stand and watch as the Prospectors rallied to win the crown by scoring five consecutive points that wiped away PHS's 12-10 lead.
"That ended our dreams of a championship," Stonebrink said. "Still, we were thrilled to get to the championship (game)."
The strong showing bodes well for the 2008 edition of the varsity Lady Horns since only one of the players in Florence earned a varsity letter last season.
"Also we didn't have Jenna Robertson who is our greatest impact player," Stonebrink said.
The single returning starter the coach had at is beckon call, Cydney Figueroa, turned into a force for opponents to deal with all tournament long.
"Cydney's spectacular play set the tone for the rest of the team," Stonebrink said. "Besides pinpoint setting, Cydney had numerous deep corner pushes for kills that caught the other teams off guard and resulted in kills."
Libero Kristin Remonda also drew praise from Stonebrink.
"Besides providing quality passing, she was our emotional leader and the team responded to her positive encouragement," Stonebrink said.
If there was a "sheer guts" award given out at the tournament, it probably would have gone to Rose Hardt who played with a severe road rash on her leg suffered earlier in the week during a motorcycle spill.
"She was gimping around and icing her leg all day," Stonebrink said. "She played hard and well and her dedication and willingness to play through pain was an inspiration."
Hardt is in line to next season play one of the outside hitter positions that were vacated by the graduation last spring of Mollee Lee and Hannah Armenta. Both were the OH starters during the 2007 season.
"I originally thought outside hitter would be our weak point on varsity but Rose, who is a senior, and sophomore Trinity England and Cami Barnett make me think outside hitter won't be a weakness for us this year," Stonebrink said. "All hit aggressively and successfully."
Also drawing plaudits from the coach were Laughlin Potvin, Michelle Daniels, Nikki DeWees and Katelyn Curtis.
Potvin is a varsity candidate at the hitter position and either Daniels, DeWees or Curtis could start in the middle.
Payson opened the tournament by splitting matches in pool play against Globe and the Florence Alumni team. In the third pool match, Payson whipped Florence B 2-0. With a 4-2 record, Payson advanced to cross-pool play against Apache Junction.
"We won the first game but lost games two and three," Stonebrink said. "The loss relegated us to the number four seed going into bracket play."
In the first match of bracket action, Payson upended a very good Florence team by back-to-back scores of 21-8.
"Florence is always tough, but the girls passed well which enabled Cydney to shine as a setter," Stonebrink said. "The result was a lot of kills for us."
With the win, Payson earned the right to play the Florence Alumni team that had earned the number-one seed.
Rising to the occasion against the Gopher alumni, Payson won 2-1. With that victory, Payson took on Apache Junction but lost 2-1 and fell into the loser's bracket. There, Payson again faced the Florence Alumni -- this time around in an elimination, win-or-go-home, match. After emerging victorious in the first game 21-8, PHS found itself trailing 20-19 in the second.
"But we got a side out and Katelyn Curtis took matters into her hands," Stonebrink said. "Using her height and instincts to resoundingly block a hard spike by the alumni's best hitter."
On the next play, Curtis scored a match-winning kill to send PHS into the championship finale against AJ.
After Payson won the first game 26-24 in OT, the Prospectors took the second to set up the dramatic final game AJ won,15-10.