Lady Longhorn Volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink is calling the team’s Oct. 17 appearance in the Fountain Hills tournament a rollercoaster ride, highlighted by the thrill of victory and lowlighted by the agony of defeat.
The agony occurred in disappointing losses to Heber Mogollon, a class 1A school, and to a 3-11 Round Valley team.
The thrill was chalked up in a 52-44 win over a Fountain Hills team that is No.1 state-ranked in power points.
Stonebrink credits the victory over highly regarded Fountain Hills to standout serving, and the two losses to lackluster mindsets.
“We seemed to have the attitude that if we showed up (against Mogollon), we would win,” Stonebrink said. “The Mustangs took advantage; they were a good team.”
After Mogollon jumped out to an early six-point lead, the Lady Horns battled back to tie the tally at the midway point of the match.
With just over a minute remaining, Payson held a precarious 49-45 lead, but a service error turned the ball over.
Then, “their server went on a serious run,” said Stonebrink. “She nailed three service winners and two aces to tie up the game as time ran out.”
In overtime, Payson hopes were dashed when a hitter spiked the ball into the net, giving tiny Mogollon a 50-49 upset.
“It was a disappointing loss to say the least,” said the coach.
Later that afternoon, East region rival Round Valley — who the Lady Horns play today, Oct. 20, in a regular season clash in Eagar — ambushed Payson 60-47.
Following the loss, Stonebrink congratulated the RV players, “My hat goes off to the Elks. They played hard, certainly not like a 3-11 team.”
What rendered the defeat even more mysterious is that on Sept. 22 in Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns manhandled the Elks 3-0.
Once again, the coach attributed the loss to the Lady Horns’ lack of grit and focus.
“We went into the game without a fire in our bellies,” Stonebrink said.
In the win over highly favored Fountain Hills, Payson turned in its best serving performance of the season, prompting Falcons coach Roy Bircham to call out Stonebrink, telling him the effort was the best anyone had served against his team this season.
Of Payson’s 52 serves, only one service error was committed and 12 aces were scored.
Jordyn Fruth nailed four aces, Katelyn Curtis added three and Desi Burris and Rachel Creighton had two each.
Stonebrink lauded the tough serving for keeping the Falcons out of their offense and the ball out of the hands of their potent outside hitters.
Conversely, the serving allowed Payson to receive several free balls and settle into a smooth running offense led by Cami Barnett, who had 20 kills and a .353 hitting mark.
Trinity England finished with six kills, and Curtis had five.
Also during the tournament, Payson whipped South Pointe 60-44 and Miami 56-51, but lost to Blue Ridge 52-47.
“Our strengths in the tournament were serving and hitting, but we struggled a lot on passing,” Stonebrink said. “Our feet weren’t moving, and that left us swinging at balls that were too far in front of us or to the side of us.”
Stonebrink called the fray in Fountain Hills “perhaps the biggest twister of emotions I’ve ever coached in.”
He also believes the tournament proves that if the Lady Horns are at the top of their game, they can play with any team in the state, but they can be beaten by the most lowly of teams if the players lose focus.
Individually, Fruth led the team in aces with 17, one more than Curtis.
England finished with 32 kills, Barnett had 31, Curtis slammed 24 and Burris finished with nine.
In regular season action on Oct. 15 in Wilson Dome, the 13-1 Lobos, who are second in the state in power points, overwhelmed the Lady Horns 25-16, 25-23 and 23-15.
The Lady Horns’ demise can be attributed to Lobo superstar Jessica Johnson.
Playing middle hitter, Johnson’s quick hits were too much for Payson, despite a game plan to throw a three-player block at her.
“Actually, it’s almost impossible to stop her, but we thought it (three-man block) could slow her down,” Stonebrink said.
Although Payson struggled, Reghan Flake, Kelsey Waugh and Burris drew praise from the coach. Burris led the team in service winners with seven, four of which were aces. Flake had six service winners and two aces.
Waugh shined with her serve receiving.
The loss dropped the Lady Horns’ East record to 8-3 and 9-7 overall.
With one East game remaining in the regular season, Payson is now tied with Blue Ridge in the loss column.
Among the younger set vs. Snowflake, the PHS freshmen whipped the Lobos to improve to 12-1. The junior varsity is 12-4 after falling to the Lobos.