No one would blame the Lady Longhorn volleyball players if they are a little edgy when they take the floor tonight, Oct. 5, in Fountain Hills to challenge the Falcons.
After all, in the players’ most recent two games they went from the exhilarating thrill of victory to the gut-wrenching despair of defeat.
That’s a range of emotions stiff enough to test the wherewithal of the most experienced of prep student athletes.
On Sept. 28 in Wilson Dome, the Lady Longhorns pulled off the feat of the year whipping a very good Blue Ridge team 3-1. Entering the match, BR was 4-0 in the East and had won both the Snowflake and Payson tournaments.
The win put Payson all alone in first place in the regular season region standings with a 7-0 record.
“We knew going in that it would be a tough match,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink.
The elation of upsetting the Yellow Jackets and being in first place was erased two days later in Wilson Dome by a pulsating 3-2 loss to the Snowflake Lobos.
Toughest for PHS faithful to absorb is that the three sets the Lady Horns lost went into overtime.
The Lady Horns won the first set 25-18 and the fourth 25-20, but lost the others 26-24, 28-26 and 16-14.
With the match now in the rearview mirror, it is being remembered as was one of the most hotly contested ever witnessed in the dome.
Until the loss to Snowflake, the Lady Horns were ranked No. 2 in power points among 3A teams. The defeat, however, coupled with Window Rock besting previously undefeated Tuba City, leapfrogged WR into second place dropping PHS to third.
Almost equally as important as power points is the East Region standings which now includes a three-way tie for first place in the loss column between the Yellow Jackets, Snowflake and Payson.
“A win (over Snowflake) would have put us in the driver’s seat,” lamented Stonebrink. “Oh well, I guess we roll up our sleeves and start over.”
Although no official statistics were available, Stonebrink lauded Trinity England for leading the team in kills and Rachel Creighton for pacing the Lady Horns in both assists and serving.
Also, “Our No. 1 digger was Rachel DiFelice,” he added.
In the fifth and deciding set of the match, Payson trailed 9-6, mostly due to three kills by Snowflake’s middle hitters on tips at the net.
That prompted Stonebrink to call a timeout and address the problem.
The girls responded with a determined run to tie the match on stellar serving by Jordyn Fruth.
“We scratched and clawed and even had the match point at 14-13, but couldn’t put it away,” Stonebrink remembers.
The win over the Yellow Jackets, coupled with victories by both the freshmen and junior varsity, was a thrill for Stonebrink.
“It was a clean sweep, perhaps the only time, at least since I’ve been here, that all three teams beat Blue Ridge.”
The freshmen won 25-21 and 25-21 to improve to 7-0 on the season. The junior varsity is 9-1 after winning 25-22 and 25-15.
“Coach Jadyn Walden of the freshmen team, coach Shelli Creighton of the junior varsity and assistant varsity coach Trevor Creighton are doing a terrific job,” said Stonebrink.
In varsity play, Payson won the opener 25-20, but then lost 25-14.
In the third set, Payson rebounded to win 25-12 setting up the deciding rubber set PHS won by a 15-5 measure.
“I was heartened by the big comeback by the girls,” said Stonebrink. “Not only were we down 2-1, but we had been clobbered the third set.
“But the girls made the necessary adjustments and the result was winning the final two sets by a 40-17 margin.”
In that stretch, the Lady Horns played some of their finest volleyball of the season.
The coach attributed much of the team’s success to the outside hitters who he said, “had a monster game.”
Trinity England finished with 25 kills, Cami Barnett recorded 16 and Kaitlyn Wessel had three.
Rachel Creighton contributed 48 assists with what the coach calls pinpoint setting.
“Besides a terrific setting and digging game, Rachel also burned the Yellow Jackets with five aces and 16 service winners, more than twice as many as anyone else,” said Stonebrink.
The coach also lauded the back row’s serve-receiving led by Megan Wessel, Rachel DiFelice, and Katelyn Curtis.
Wessel and Fruth drew praise for their contributions, which included three aces and seven service winners each.