A 3-0 win over the Snowflake Lobos and a second-place finish in the Fountain Hills Invitational tournament has Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink and his charges celebrating one of the finest back-to-back performances in team history.
It all began Oct. 14 in Snowflake where the Lady Horns virtually assured themselves of a tie for first place in the race for the East Region championship by shutting out the Lobos.
All Payson must do now to nail down the gold medal deadknot is to whip Round Valley today, Oct. 19, in the Lady Horns’ East season finale.
If that occurs, Payson will most likely tie Blue Ridge and Snowflake for the regular season championship.
Following Payson’s win last week over Snowflake, the team traveled Oct. 16 to Fountain Hills for the Falcon Invitational.
In it, the Lady Horns opened with a 60-35 win over Miami, but then lost a hard-fought 56-48 decision to the host Falcons.
In the third round, the Lady Longhorns edged Apache Junction 54-44 behind eight kills each by outside hitters Cami Barnett and Trinity England.
Payson’s 2-1 record was good enough to earn the team a berth in the championship against undefeated Fountain Hills.
In the first set, the Falcons soared to a 25-15 victory.
In the second set, the Lady Horns had set point, 24-23, but gave up three straight points to fall 26-24. With Fountain Hills’ win, the Falcons staked claim to the tournament championship. The Lady Horns, however, returned home knowing they can now focus on a run at winning the upcoming East tournament and earning an advantageous seed into the state finals that begin Nov. 5 in Prescott.
If Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Payson remain tied for the regular season crown when the campaign wraps up Oct. 25, the most likely tiebreaker to be used to determine the No. 1 seed into the regional tournament on Oct. 30 would be power points.
Currently, Payson is No. 5 in the state and first among the trio of East Region teams. Blue Ridge is second at No. 8 and Snowflake trails at No. 12.
Stonebrink expects the Yellow Jackets and Lobos to win all their remaining games, so the two teams can only move up in the power point standings.
Payson, however, has a rough road ahead with Round Valley, Fountain Hills (Oct. 21) and 4A II Flagstaff (Oct. 25) left to play.
“We will be favored against Round Valley, but Fountain Hills is the only 3A team in the state we’ve played without beating them once,” Stonebrink said. Payson is 0-3 vs. FH.
Flagstaff, which has an 11-2 record and is ranked No. 6 in 4A II power points, will also be a formidable opponent.
“I figure we’ll need to beat the Elks and either the Falcons or Eagles to stay ahead of Blue Ridge and Snowflake for the No. 1 seed in the region,” said Stonebrink. “So we still have a lot at stake in the remainder of our schedule.”
Lobos a formidable foe
Wins over Snowflake on the Lobos’ home court are tough to come by, which makes Payson’s triumph all the more sweet — as tough as it was.
“Although the win was a shutout, it felt like anything but,” said Stonebrink.
“We won the first set by four (points) and the last two sets went into overtime. Snowflake played very well and we had to have a tremendous match to win the game.”
In Payson’s opening set win, the serving of Megan Wessel proved crucial.
“Her tough serves repeatedly induced free balls back and enabled us to run our offense,” Stonebrink said. “She nailed 10 service winners in that set.”
Cami Barnett contributed with seven kills and Kelsey Waugh had four.
In the nip-and-tuck second set, Payson trailed 18-12 before strategy changes closed the gap to 21-19. The Lobos retaliated to take a 24-19 lead and were staring victory in the face.
But after a side out, Megan Wessel stepped to the line and served four straight points to push the game into OT.
“Megan didn’t get the MVP award for the game, but she did win the clutch player award,” Stonebrink said.
Snowflake had seven set point opportunities but couldn’t cash in on any of them.
With Payson teetering on the verge of a loss, Jordyn Fruth stepped up to serve two straight service winners to give PHS a pulsating 30-28 win.
Up 2-0, the Lady Horns entered the rubber set determined to end the match, even though Stonebrink warned in a TO that “Snowflake would not give up.”
Just as the coach predicted, the Lobos put up a tough fight and actually had set point, 24-23, before a side out set the stage for Payson’s win.
A pair of service winners from Rachel Creighton, one of which was an ace, finally ended the red-hot duel in Lobo land.
After watching the match, many left SHS gym wondering just how evenly matched Snowflake and Payson are.
The answer rests in the six sets that PHS and SHS played this season. Of those, five went into overtime.
In underclass action, the PHS freshmen improved to 11-1 record with a 2-1 win over the Lobos.
The junior varsity fell to 13-2 overall, with a loss to the Lobos. In the third set, the Payson jayvees were down 10-1 but rallied to close within 13-12 before losing 15-13.
Tonight’s showdown against Round Valley in Wilson Dome is Senior Night and the Oct. 25 clash against Fountain Hills is the final home match of the season.