The Lady Longhorn volleyball team pulled off the upset of the Class 3A state tournament whipping highly favored Fountain Hills 3-2.
The win was also Payson’s first state tournament victory in the last 14 seasons.
But after upsetting the No. 6 seeded Falcons, the Lady Longhorns’ dreams of winning the school’s first state volleyball title came to a screeching halt with a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss to No. 3-ranked Tuba City.
State tournament action took place Nov. 7 at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott Valley.
The Lady Horns took an 11th seed to the tournament after finishing third in the East regular season standings and third in the regional tournament.
Pitted against favored Fountain Hills, many expected the Lady Horns to utter only an “adios” as previous teams have done. But the Rim Country netters rose to the challenge after losing the first game 25-17. Payson took the second game 25-20 but decisively lost the third, 25-7.
Down, squirming and struggling, but not out, Payson tied up the match 2-2 with a 25-17 victory. In the fifth and deciding game, Payson survived a 15-13 thriller that is sure to add a few gray hairs to coach Arnold Stonebrink’s noggin. With the stirring win, Payson advanced to the quarterfinals against North Region tournament champion Tuba City.
“Tuba City came in with great credentials, they had lost to only one team (Monument Valley) during the regular season and sported a strong 15-2 record,” Stonebrink said.
The Lady Horns lost the opener 25-17, but won the second game 26-24 and the third 25-21. Tuba City took the fourth 25-17 to force a for-all-the-marbles fifth game showdown. In the finale, Payson power — which had been firing on all cylinders — finally ran out of petrol, 15-5.
The final four was a cause for celebration on the Hopi and Navajo reservations because it featured three teams — Monument Valley, Window Rock and Tuba City — from the North Region. The other final-four team, Safford, represented the South.
In the championship match, North regular season titleholder Monument Valley defeated Safford 3-0.
The North has long had a reputation as the home of some of the state’s finest high school basketball teams.
With the region’s showing at Bradshaw Mountain, the North can now stake claim as the domicile of the best prep volleyball teams in Arizona.
Warriors survive in five
The Lady Horns first-game loss to Tuba City could be attributed to the players turning into their own worst enemies.
“We had five service errors, three receiving errors and six hitting errors,” Stonebrink said. “The Warriors were able to capitalize for the win.”
In the second game, the Lady Horns’ play improved, but the Warriors took an early four-point lead “and stubbornly hung on to it,” Stonebrink said.
Trailing 23-21, Payson scored a side out which sent freshman Katelyn Curtis to the service line. After serving a point winner, she tallied an ace to give Payson a 24-23 lead. However, a side out by TC put the thriller at Bradshaw into overtime.
Payson responded by scoring the two winning points on a side out off Kristin Remonda’s ace.
For the game, Payson tallied 14 kills, six by Jenna Robertson.
The third game turned Payson’s way thanks to six straight service winners by Cydney Figueroa and Robertson’s strong play at the net.
“It was a tremendous battle, the third game,” Stonebrink said. It was power against power, (Dakota) Yazzie was heating up and Jenna was not backing down,” Stonebrink said.
Yazzie was the North Region Player of the Year, but in the game, Robertson reigned supreme with eight kills.
“But that was our last hurrah,” Stonebrink said. “Tuba City ratcheted their passing game up a notch and Yazzie ratcheted up her hitting two notches.”
Following the hard-fought loss, Stonebrink praised Yazzie as the best hitter his team faced this season.
But as good as she was, Robertson was almost her equal.
“Jenna matched Yazzie hit for hit the first three games and ended up with team highs of 22 kills and .228 hitting,” Stonebrink said.
Falcons were tough
Entering the tournament opening game against Fountain Hills, Stonebrink was optimistic despite the fact his team was the underdog, mostly because the Falcons sported a 15-2 record and had lost only to state power Safford during the regular season.
“I also knew that to have a chance to win, the girls would have to be on the top of their game and have a very high energy and enthusiasm level,” the coach said.
After nine hitting errors cost the Lady Horns the first game, Trinity England stepped up with eight kills to help Payson win the second showdown.
But the third was all Falcons as FH won a landslide by 18 points.
“It was a disaster, we could do nothing right,” Stonebrink said.
In game five, the teams battled much like two mighty heavyweights standing toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring.
“It was a scary barnburner,” Stonebrink said.
With the scored tied 10-10, Payson tallied a side out and two service winners by Laughlin Potvin to take a 13-10 lead.
After both teams scored on side outs, Payson led 14-11 only to see FH fight back to close the lead to 14-13.
Rising to the occasion, Robertson won a battle at the net with a kill that gave the Lady Horns a 15-13 victory.
With the season at an end, the team will gather one final time for the traditional season-ending ceremony during which the awarding of varsity letters will take place.
The date and time will be announced later this week.