An old nemesis awaits the Lady Longhorn volleyball team when the regular season tips off today in Holbrook.
Payson’s opponent, the homestanding Roadrunners, “perennially are always our Achilles heel,” PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink says.
“We always reserve our worst performance for them.”
The coach believes he knows the reasons the Lady Longhorns underperform against the North region Roadrunners.
“They have smart hitters that pick their spots and don’t make mistakes, and back row players that dig everything hit at them,” he said. “Their main strategy is keeping the ball in play and waiting for the other team to make a mistake.”
Often, Payson players have fallen into the trap with their impatience and over eagerness to pound the ball at the Roadrunners.
But instead of demoralizing Holbrook with their power, Payson hits often go out of bounds or into the net.
Stonebrink has a strategy for countering the Roadrunner’s deliberate attack.
“In order to have a chance of beating Holbrook, you have to play your game, minimize errors and have faith that some of your hits will eventually start to fall in for kills,” he said.
For tonight’s game, Holbrook might be even better than they have in the past.
“I think they will be tough — they finished second in the Blue Ridge tournament this summer, so they are looking quite strong,” Stonebrink said.
“I’m excited for the match.”
The PHS roster
The Lady Horns will counter the Roadrunners with a young, inexperienced team but one that might be rounding into a force to be reckoned with.
Desi Burris appears to have the moxie needed to become a fine setter, and Rylee Halenar is a superb all-around player who can hold down the libero or setter position.
She also improved her serve during an Excel Position Camp the team members attended this summer.
Instead of the hard top-spin serve she had last season, she now has a darting floater.
“Not only is it tough to pass, but she is very consistent with it,” Stonebrink said.
At the net, the coach is predicting Michelle Daniels will be one of the 3A conference’s premier blockers. Also Reghan Flake, who played back row last season, will move to opposite hitter spot where she will give the offense and defense a boost.
At outside hitters, Trinity England and Cami Barnett are expected to start.
“Both are very aggressive,” Stonebrink said.
Katelyn Curtis and Kelsey Waugh are battling to be the other starting middle hitter.
Curtis’ strength is her defense and Waugh’s is her offense.
“Katelyn has been hitting the ball solidly and Kelsey has been rock solid,” Stonebrink said.
Also on varsity this season are Marlow Galloway and Kady Ward, neither of whom played last season.
“Kady was a foreign exchange student in South America last year,” Stonebrink said. “But she has made great strides and will contribute, especially defensively.”
The coach also lauds Galloway for her huge improvement over two seasons ago.
Fans also might notice Rachel Creighton playing some as a back-row specialist.
“Her main position, however, is setter, so we are grooming her for that by having her set on jayvee,” he said.
The Lady Horns will debut at home on Sept. 1 against Mogollon High and on Sept. 4 and 5 will host the annual Payson Invitational.
Game time tonight in Holbrook is 6:30 p.m. The varsity game will be preceded by freshmen.