The Lady Longhorns won the consolation championship in the Payson Invitational Volleyball Tournament this past weekend.
“We were hopeful we could make it to the championship bracket, because, we figure, if you make the championship bracket, anything can happen,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink.
“Last year we did, earning the No. 3 seed, and then scored some upsets here and there to win the championship. As it is, winning the consolation championship is similar to a tie; it’s like kissing your sister.”
The Horns started pool play by taking on Mogollon. Desi Burris nailed some aces to give the team a modest lead, and late in the first set the Horns were up 19-17. But a couple of hitting errors, paired with a couple of serve-receive errors, ended up in a 19-21 loss.
The second game, the team was able to minimize errors, and won handily, 17-11, Stonebrink said.
“Katelyn Curtis was solid in the back row, and enabled us to earn the split,” he said.
The next game saw the Horns take care of Cesar Chavez, 21-12, 17-13. Burris had three kills in just four attempts, and Rachel Creighton and Reghan Flake passed solidly.
“We had to have a supreme effort against Florence, and it didn’t happen, as we lost 11-21 and 14-19. Florence just overpowered us with their hitting, and especially, their serving. The Gophers fired seven aces at us. We really had no answer for them,” the coach said.
To shake things up, Stonebrink decided to move people around. He moved Creighton from the libero position to play setter in the 6-2 offense along with Rylee Halenar. In Creighton’s spot, he moved Flake over to libero. In Flake’s old spot, he moved Curtis to the opposite hitter position. Kelsey Waugh and Curtis were both playing middle hitter, but for the rest of the tourney Waugh would man that position.
The moves paid off the next game against a tough Mingus team.
“We played well and won, 21-17 and 17-12. Trinity England’s six-point service run broke open the first set, and her and Flake’s passing solidified our offense,” said Stonebrink.
The team was faced with having to win a set against a very tough Window Rock team. “The girls gave a valiant effort, but Window Rock’s solid defense and hitting prevailed in the end. We lost, 15-21, 15-20. Kelsey had three kills and .400 hitting, and our passing was solid, again led by Reghan and Trinity,” Stonebrink said.
Window Rock won the Horns’ pool with a 9-1 record; Florence and Mingus finished with 6-4 records, to relegate Payson to fourth place and the consolation bracket with a 5-5 record.
“We were pretty disappointed. But the girls were pretty good at putting it behind us, and focusing on our new goal, winning the consolation championship,” Stonebrink said.
The team started by taking apart Coconino in cross-pool play, 21-8, 21-7.
“We had an all-around great game, led by Michelle Daniels, who led the team in kills with five. Desi led the team in blocking with three block assists,” he said.
Payson was able to exact revenge on Globe, which beat the team last week in Globe, by defeating the Tigers 21-14, 17-14. Jordyn Fruth was especially abusive to the Tigers, administering four aces. Desi Burris was very effective at opposite hitter, registering five kills and .444 hitting.
The wins enabled the team to take the No. 1 seed in the consolation bracket.
“Our first match in bracket play was against No. 8 Ganado. I don’t know why they struggled so much in pool play, because they played hard and well against us the first two sets. We won 25-23, 15-25, 11-3.
“Rylee came to our rescue in the first set; we were down 19-23 before earning a side out. She then proceeded to serve five straight winners to take the first set. She and Jordyn each knocked out three aces to lead the servers. Cami Barnett nailed six kills in .417 hitting to pace the Longhorns,” Stonebrink said.
The Payson girls then took on Thunderbird and their mettle was tested. The team lost the first set, 22-25. The girls roared back to win the next two sets, 25-15 and 11-7.
“The third set had a play that epitomized the girls’ play Saturday,” the coach said.
“Reghan and Trinity both ran well off of the court to chase down and dive for an errant ball. They both collided and rolled over each over, but managed to save the ball, and we scored the point. Reghan and Trinity led the team in passing, and Reghan’s 12 digs also were tops for the Longhorns. Cami’s aggressive hitting led in nine kills for her.”
Payson then took on Wickenburg and their 6-foot-2-inch outside hitter, Shelby Lehman.
“We had no answer for her,” Stonebrink said. “She was able to hit the ball around, through, and sometimes over the block, and our diggers could not cope with the velocity of the spikes. She also was a terrific server; she and Savannah Wells rocked us with four aces apiece. The result was a 19-25, 21-25 pasting.”
The loss relegated the Longhorns to the losers bracket, which was disappointing, to be sure.
“I’ve never coached, or even played on a volleyball team, that came back through the losers bracket to win it. Heck, I’ve never coached or been on any sports team that did that. I felt at this point I’d probably have to write you something like this: ‘Well, we gave our all, but in the end, I think we just ran out of gas.’ The girls showed no signs of the needle hitting “E” in the next match against Globe. Jordyn Fruth led the charges with four aces, Trinity and Reghan again paced the offense with solid passing, and four and three digs respectively. Rylee delivered 10 assists, and a balanced attack, led by Trinity’s Trinity’s and Cami’s four kills each, propelled us to a 25-21, 25-14 triumph.”
Stonebrink said, “We came into the championship with a plan for stopping Lehman. I told the hitters to not worry so much about their opposite hitters, and instead close off the block every time against Lehman, and make her at least have to hit around our block. Also, our back row moved back to be able to better dig out the tough spikes.
“The result was six blocks by our front row, including two solos and two block assists by Michelle. We were also able to dig Lehman whenever she made it around the block; Reghan was especially effective, racking up seven digs. Lehman was effectively neutralized; she was held to three kills, and also committed three hitting errors.
“Our defense was not the only aggressive part of our game; Rylee delivered three consecutive aces, and she and Rachel had an easy time setting due to solid passing led by Trinity and Reghan. Cami benefited from the pinpoint setting with four kills, but that was nothing compared to Trinity — she racked up 10 kills in only 15 attempts, and only two errors, for a spectacular .533 hitting efficiency.”
As domineering as the girls were, an accident occurred that definitely put a damper on things, the coach said.
“We saw Rylee lying by the wall holding her ankle. She had severely sprained her ankle, and we found out later that she is supposed to be on crutches for a week. The girls were obviously stunned by the injury, and some were emotional, for good reason — Rylee is in many ways the heart and soul of the team, because of her terrific play and hustle, and her example by how she plays, and what she leaves out on the court.
“But if the girls were bothered by Rylee’s injury, it sure didn’t show in their play; they were able to maintain the big lead in the second set, and their play was still energetic and aggressive. Desi was able to step into Rylee’s spot and continue the crisp setting.”
The first set of the championship match for all of the marbles did not start out well, Stonebrink said. Four service errors countered Trinity’s four kills, and we lost the first set, 20-25.
“I was wondering if we, indeed, had run out of gas,” Stonebrink said.
The girls dug deep down and found a final reservoir of energy. Again, the focus was Lehman.
“The girls blocked her perhaps better than any Longhorn team has blocked since I’ve been here. Middle hitters Michelle and Kelsey worked their butts off to close the ball, and along with Desi and Katelyn, were able to put up nearly insurmountable blocks that were higher than I’d seen in the tournament,” the coach said.
In the end, the girls were able to chalk up a season-high seven blocks, including five block assists. The diggers continued to stymie Lehman with the few hits that got past the blockers. The defense was so dominating that Lehman deserted her power hitting game and began resorting to tips and off-speed hits.
“Once she started doing that, I knew we had an excellent chance. She ended up with three kills and four errors for the match,” Stonebrink said.
Trinity gave the team a huge spark in the second set by powering four more kills and three aces. She, Cami, and Reghan were solid in the back row passing.
“Kady Ward, however, gave us perhaps the biggest boost; with the Wranglers holding onto a small lead, she served six straight winners, two of which were aces, to give us a lead we never gave up. We won, 25-20,” Stonebrink said.
The third set showed the coach a lot. Trinity and Cami were warriors; even though they were soaked in sweat, they summoned even more energy. Not only did Trinity pass perfectly, she added three more kills. And Cami was intent on single-handedly putting away the Wranglers, as she knocked down seven kills. Eveliina Solimin knocked down two aces, and the defense continued to shut down Lehman. The girls were able to hammer out a 25-22 win, and nail down the consolation championship.
In the same game, Eveliina nailed the same girl in the face twice with her high-velocity, darting serve. Eveliina led the team in serving efficiency and aces, with 17, and Jordyn tied for second with Desi with 15 aces.
Rachel led the team in passing efficiency, which she did before she was changed to setter. Reghan and Trinity stepped up in her absence in the back row to get the offense going. Reghan’s 55 digs paced the team, followed by Trinity’s 32.
“Not only did Trinity shine in the back row, but she also was dominant on the front row,” Stonebrink said. “She hit a solid .189, including 48 kills. Her performance led to a well-earned spot on the All-Tournament Team. She especially was tremendous in the championship, hitting .533 and .346 in the last matches vs. Wickenburg. Cami actually led the team with 59 kills, and Desi hit a respectable .169 from the usually difficult opposite hitter position. Michelle has superb blocking instincts, and she put them on display in the tournament, as she tallied 13 block solos and 14 block assists. Rylee led the team in assists with 76, followed by Rachel’s 45, and Desi’s 42.”
The coach said a number of positives came out of the tourney. “Hopefully we can build on them in the coming weeks.”
The team opened region play Tuesday at home against Show Low, and followed that with a big home match against St. Johns on Thursday, Sept. 10.