The Lady Longhorns ride a rather lofty No. 2 seed into the East region tournament to be contested Oct. 31 in the Round Valley High School Dome in Eagar.
With the seed, the Lady Horns receive a first-round bye, as does top-seeded and East champion Snowflake.
In the first round, No. 3 Blue Ridge takes on No. 6 Alchesay and No. 4 Round Valley is pitted against No. 5 Show Low.
The winners of the BR vs. Alchesay game challenge Payson in the second round. The survivor of the RV vs. Show Low skirmish plays Snowflake.
The champions of second-round games battle each other for the tournament championship.
The losers of second-round matches meet for third place.
No matter the outcome of the East tournament, Payson — which is ranked No. 12 in power points — is a lock to make the state tournament. It begins Nov. 6 in Prescott.
However, the Horns’ first-round state opponent is not yet known, but coach Arnold Stonebrink is predicting it could be either Sedona or Tuba City.
The two teams are currently tied for No. 5 in power points, and No. 12 is scheduled to open against No. 5.
“I guess we’ll play the winner of that tiebreaker, whatever that is,” Stonebrink said. “Neither one is a particularly desirable opponent — both are enjoying tremendous seasons.”
The Lady Horns wrapped up the regular season Oct. 22 with a 3-0 loss to a fine-tuned Fountain Hills team.
Payson lost by scores of 25-18, 25-20 and 28-26.
With the defeat, the Lady Horns’ match record fell to 10-8 and 30-19 including tournaments.
Against Fountain Hills, Payson played well, but not quite good enough to whip a team that had been No. 1 in power points most of the season.
“It seemed like we made adjustments throughout the match that were successful and made us more competitive as the match wore on, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Stonebrink said.
In the two-point, third-set loss, Payson led most of the way and was about to force a fourth set before Fountain Hills rode two Lady Horns hitting errors to a come-from-behind victory.
In the loss, the Lady Horns were without the services of Cami Barnett and Desi Burris who were sidelined with knee injuries.
“It was a critical match and they could have played, but after consulting with the trainer, Ryan Howard, we figured it was best to rest their knees and get them healthy for regionals and state,” Stonebrink said.
Kelsey Waugh moved to outside hitter from opposite hitter, and Reghan Flake switched from back row specialist to opposite hitter.
Which meant, instead of running a usual 6-2 offense, Rachel Creighton took over the setting chores single-handedly and Rylee Halenar, usually the second setter, moved to libero.
Usual libero Rachel DiFelice switched to back row specialist.
Despite all the changes, the “switch didn’t make us too discombobulated,” Stonebrink said.
On Oct. 20 in Round Valley, which was the Lady Horns’ final East game of the regular season, Payson survived a 3-2 thriller.
PHS opened with a 25-22 loss to the Elks, but won the second set 28-26.
In the third set, RV opened a 10-5 lead, but the Lady Horns went on a 20-10 run to win 25-20.
In the fourth set, the Lady Horns couldn’t survive a slow start, losing 25-18.
Payson salvaged the match win by taking the rubber set 15-8.
Much of the credit for the win goes to standout serving, which dropped 18 aces on the Elks.
Katelyn Curtis and Burris led the servers with four aces each.
Also the team received good efforts from its hitters, which, Stonebrink said, “Is a great sign going into the post season.”
Among those who performed well, the coach said, were Michelle Daniels, Trinity England, Curtis and Burris.
At the net, Daniels had one block and three assisted blocks.
Among the younger players, both the freshmen and jayvees won by 2-1 counts.
“That was the first time in my coaching career that all three matches went the distance,” Stonebrink said. “The 11 sets made for a long evening.”