After fine-tuning the offense and defense in three preseason non-region games, the Lady Longhorn volleyball team is anxiously awaiting the start of the Payson Invitational Tournament — traditionally one of the highlights of the early season.
The tournament will be played today, Sept. 4, and tomorrow in Wilson Dome and old PHS gymnasium.
Payson plays today at 9 a.m. (vs. Mogollon), 10:30 a.m. (vs. Cesar Chavez), noon (vs. Florence), 1 p.m. (vs. Mingus) and 3:30 p.m. (vs. Window Rock).
All the games are in the dome except Cesar Chavez, which is in the old gym.
On Saturday morning, cross-pool play will begin, followed by a double-elimination tournament.
There is no admission charge and a snack bar will be open.
The Lady Horns opened the season with losses to Holbrook and Globe, but rebounded Sept. 1 to whip Mogollon, 3 sets to 1.
“It was nice to break into the win column and empty my bench,” coach Arnold Stonebrink said. “My nonstarters played quite well.”
In Holbrook Aug. 25
If the score 25-23 is etched in Lady Longhorn volleyball players’ psyches, there is an unhappy reason behind it.
It’s because the Lady Horns dropped three straight sets to the Holbrook Roadrunners by the identical 25-23 scores.
It’s extremely rare that such a numerical happenstance takes place, but that’s what occurred in both team’s season opener Aug. 25 in Holbrook.
Coach Arnold Stonebrink was obviously disappointed by the lost game, but said, “There were a lot of positives to come out of it and a few negatives.
“My overall feeling is I’m excited about the season and our chances.”
During the off season, Stonebrink expressed his concerns about the team mostly because the Lady Horns lost a good deal of talent to last spring’s graduation and the replacements were young and untested.
A preseason scrimmage Aug. 20 against Florence did little to dampen his concerns mostly because a number of players missed the clash.
“But having seen their play against a good, veteran (Holbrook) team, I’ve come away with a good feeling about the girls’ chances this season, of how well they’ll do in the tournament and in the region,” the coach said.
Stonebrink is predicting the team has a good chance of earning a state berth and playing deep into the tournament.
He is making the bold prediction mostly because the Lady Horns showed well against a Holbrook team that has nine seniors, eight of which were on varsity last year. Also, Holbrook took second among the 30 teams that participated this summer in the hotly contested Blue Ridge Invitational.
“Holbrook is tough and I think they may be one of the best teams in the state,” Stonebrink said.
Individually, Desi Burris led the team in service winners with 11 and also contributed four aces. Rachel Creighton had three aces and showed huge improvement in the passing game.
Stonebrink lauded the passing attack in Holbrook as “rock solid.” That attack was led by Reghan Flake, Cami Barnett and Rylee Halenar, who finished with nine digs — a team high.
At the net, Michelle Daniels was at the top of her game with two solo blocks, five kills and a .250 hitting mark.
Barnett led the Horns in kills, posting 12.
If there was a heartbreaking moment in the game, it occurred in the third set when Payson built an 11-1 lead and led 23-21, late in the set before Holbrook won with a four-point run.
Just two days after losing the hotly contested game to Holbrook, the Lady Horns traveled to Globe where PHS lost the first two sets, rallied to win the next two and the lost the rubber clash. PHS dropped the openers 29-27 and 25-15. Payson won 27-25 and 25-15. In the finale, Payson fell 15-12.
“Probably as much as a contributing factor than anything else was our overlooking them,” Stonebrink said. “We’ve never had any trouble playing Globe in all the years we’ve played them.”
While Stonebrink often prefers to shoulder any blame for a loss saying, “That was my fault,” the defeat in Globe this time should be attributed to a much-improved Tiger volleyball program and the presence of six seniors.
“They are much more aggressive hitting than I’ve seen them,” Stonebrink said. “Their outside and opposite hitters really attack the ball. And the coach’s daughter leads the offense with steady, assertive setting.”
The team’s defense is also much improved digging balls that might have fallen in during past seasons.
“I think they will surprise a lot of teams this year,” Stonebrink predicts.
As in the loss to Holbrook, Burris was the team’s top server finishing with three aces and 12 service winners.
Creighton, who has not been starting partly because she was ill and also because she is the jayvee setter, had two aces.
At the net, Daniels had nine kills prompting Stonebrink to declare, “she is off to a terrific start this year.”
Katelyn Curtis, the team’s other middle hitter, also drew praise for her seven kills, solid .167 hitting percentage, two stuff assists and one solo stuff.