The inaugural Payson Invitational Volleyball Tournament turned into a Lady Longhorn highlight reel.
That’s because two of the three teams Payson High entered in the tourney dominated play during the 22-team shoot-out held July 24 in Wilson Dome, old PHS gymnasium and Rim Country Middle School gym.
The “A” — or varsity — team finished second overall and the “B” — or JV — squad, won the consolation championship.
The “C” — or freshman — group, struggled to an 0-5 record in the morning session, but roared back in cross pool play to split two game sets against Apache Junction A, Duncan and Hopi.
In consolation bracket play, the rookies upset Apache Junction B before being eliminated by Payson’s B team.
The PHS A team dominated in varsity team pool play opening with a convincing 30-7 win over Camp Verde. Northland Prep was the next to fall, losing 30-10 to the hard-charging Lady Longhorns.
PHS continued unbeaten, crushing San Tan Foothills 30-10 behind determined serving runs by Rachel Creighton and Kelsey Waugh.
Payson’s final pool foe, Apache Junction, gave the Lady Horns a tough test before falling 29-20.
“The girls played tough, controlled the tempo and won easily,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink.
With the pool play championship in hand, PHS tipped off afternoon cross-pool action against the winners of the other three pools. PHS drew defending state runner-up Tuba City in the opener
What resulted was the mother of all tournament games that dramatically ended on Trinity England’s game-winning kill.
“That crucial spike gave us a 26-25 win,” Stonebrink said.
The victory was a tribute to the team’s resourcefulness in that the group was shorthanded because three players were attending Mike Barr’s celebration of life tribute that was occurring at the same time.
“That left us with six players — we had to put girls in odd positions, the oddest being libero Rachel DiFelice in the front row as outside hitter,” Stonebrink said.
Late in the game, England — an outside hitter — returned allowing DiFelice to return to her normal back row position.
During the hotly contested game, neither team could take more than a three-point lead and with a minute remaining, Payson trailed 25-24.
With backs to the wall, Payson rallied for the dramatic win with hard spikes, digs and eventually England’s kill.
Against Florence A, the Lady Horns, still missing two players, were overwhelmed 30-15.
“Even had the two players been with us, it wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome,” said Stonebrink. “Florence is their usual strong hitting selves, but they also passed extremely well and are a complete team.”
Florence’s stellar play along with sloppy offense, defense and passing errors from the Lady Horns, spelled the demise of PHS hopes.
“We we’re doomed,” said Stonebrink.
Against Winslow, the Lady Horns were finally at full strength and the depth showed in a 30-18 win over the Lady Dogs.
Payson wrapped up cross-pool play with a chance to finish in a three-way tie for first, but the opportunity fell by the wayside with a 28-19 loss to North Canyon.
The loss dropped PHS into a tie for third place. However, after losing a tiebreaker, the Lady Horns fell to fourth and took that seed into the late evening championship bracket.
After drawing a bye in the first round, Payson met — for the second time in the tournament — the Winslow Bulldogs.
“I figured I could put in a less than strong lineup, but Winslow did a good job of keeping the ball in play and waiting for us to make errors,” Stonebrink said.
Trailing 14-12, Stonebrink made a strategy move sending Katelyn Curtis in to play middle hitter.
“She had an immediate impact,” said the coach. “The first play she finished with a kill and the next with a stuff.
“Her superior play, along with her enthusiasm, paved the way for us to take a five-point lead and we hung in for a 29-27 win.”
Next up for the now tiring Lady Horns was the tournament’s No. 1 seed — Tuba City.
“The girls summoned the energy and enthusiasm to play a stellar game and take it to the Warriors, 29-22,” said Stonebrink.
With the win, PHS advanced to the championship against the strong-hitting North Canyon team that had earlier dominated the Lady Horns in a nine-point win.
“We dug ourselves into a hole with some errors and North Canyon used its power to jump to a 10-point lead,” said Stonebrink.
The Lady Horns, however, refused to fold up their tents, clawing back to within 27-23 before NC hung on for a 30-24 win.
“I was happy to see the girls take second place,” the coach said.
“North Canyon is a 5A I school, so losing to them wasn’t anything to hang our heads about.
“It was the best Payson has ever played in a summer tournament since I’ve been here,” Stonebrink said.
The coach attributed the team’s improved play — over a lackluster showing two weeks ago at Blue Ridge High School — to Curtis’ return to the lineup.
“We benefited greatly having her in our tournament, not only because of her terrific hitting, strong defense and tough serving, but also because of her great enthusiasm and attitude.
“She brings up the whole team,” Stonebrink said.
Aspiring Lady Longhorn players now turn their attention to the Payson Pre-Tryout Camp, which will be held from 3:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., Wednesday, July 28 through Friday, July 30 in Wilson Dome.
Tryouts are Aug. 2-3 in the dome.
Also on the net agenda is the annual PHS Alumni Tournament and benefit steak dinner to be held July 31 in Wilson Dome.
The dinner, which will be prepared by the Friends And Neighbors (FAN) Club, will be from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Wilson Dome concession area. Tickets are $6 and the menu includes steak, potato, salad, beans and beverage.
Beginning about 6:30 p.m., the annual Alumni Tournament will be played in the dome. It pits some of the Lady Horns past players against other alumni and the current PHS squad.