The Lady Longhorn volleyball team travels today, Oct. 12, to St. Johns with a goal of breaking free from the anguish of a three-match losing streak.
Most of the 2010 campaign, the Lady Horns have been one of the finest 3A teams in the state and only a week ago were sitting in a lofty second place in the power point rankings that are used to seed qualifiers into the postseason.
The runner-up rank was the highest a PHS team had achieved in the history of power points. But then the team hit a rough spot in the schedule in which Payson played back-to-back-to-back against three of the conference’s finest teams — Snowflake, Fountains Hills and Blue Ridge. All three ended in losses, which has dropped the Lady Longhorns to 12th in the power point standings.
“The girls are bummed about our three-game losing streak, but they don’t have a defeated attitude,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink. “We weren’t blown out in any of the games and we know we can beat any of those teams if we are really on.”
In the loss to Blue Ridge, the Yellow Jackets took the first set 25-17 and the second 25-20. Payson rallied in the third set, 25-15, to force a fourth showdown. In it, BR came from behind to win 25-19.
“Blue Ridge served tough and we had to make a change in personnel in the back row to try and counter it,” Stonebrink said.
“The game was a surprise — it was the most aggressive and successful I’ve ever seen them serve against us,” Stonebrink said. “I feel the difference (in the outcome) was they won the serving game.”
For Payson, sophomore Kaitlyn Wessel, a left-handed right side hitter broke out of a recent slump to turn in a stellar performance that included four kills and no errors.
“Over the summer she was perhaps my best hitter and she led all the hitters in the Blue Ridge tournament,” Stonebrink said. “But she spent the first month of the season mired in a hitting slump. Now her hitting is coming back and against really tough teams no less.”
The coach anticipates that her renewed hitting prowess will strengthen the Horns because opposing blockers must now respect and defend her, which will loosen the blocks for other PHS hitters.
Trinity England, Rylee Halenar and Megan Wessel also drew plaudits from Stonebrink.
“Trinity was a workhorse pounding 14 kills,” he said. “Rylee and Megan were solid in the back row passing and Rylee was fantastic in the digging department.”
Halenar finished with 13 digs, a mark second only to libero Rachel DiFelice’s 23.
Megan Wessel, the back row player substitute for her twin, Kaitlyn, was praised as the steadiest player on the team.
“She is a terrific passer and she leads the team in aces and services winners” said Stonebrink. “She is second on the team in serving efficiency to Rachel Creighton.”
Against BR, Creighton recorded a whopping 33 assists.
While today’s game is an opportunity for the Lady Horns to end their slump, it is an Oct. 14 clash in Snowflake that will carry the greatest importance in the East Region title chase and the postseason.
“It (the match in Snowflake) is big for us — if Snowflake beats Blue Ridge (today) and we beat Snowflake Thursday, there would be a three-way tie for first (in the region standings),” Stonebrink said.
If there is a three-way tie for first in the East standings, power points would determine seeding in the regional tournament to be played Oct. 30.
“The No. 1 is huge because whoever ends up with it among Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Payson will likely see the other two battle it out against each other as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds and then be rested to take on the winner (in the tournament championship).”
This week, the ideal scenario for the Lady Horns would be for Snowflake to whip the Yellow Jackets and then Payson down the Lobos.
That could give PHS the No. 1 tournament seed the team is diligently working to achieve.