The Lady Longhorns turned in one of their finest performances ever in the Payson Invitational Tournament finishing as runners-up in the championship bracket.
The tournament was played Sept. 3 and 4 in Wilson Dome and the old PHS gym. It drew 18 of the finest prep teams from around the state to Payson.
In the championship game against Blue Ridge, the Lady Longhorns won the first set 25-22, but fell in the second 25-12.
In the third and deciding set, the Lady Horns were edged 25-19.
Following the tournament, Stonebrink said, “I was very pleased with the Lady Longhorns. Wins over Florence and Window Rock were huge as was a split with Safford.”
The coach believes that being able to contend against powerful Blue Ridge in the championship match will be a confidence boost to his players.
“It also showed me we can play with the elite teams in the state,” he said.
In tournament opening pool play on Friday, the Lady Horns racked up an 8-2 mark, which Stonebrink lauded as “the best record any of my teams have ever earned in pool play.”
It was also good enough for a first-place finish in the purple pool.
Mustangs corral Horns
All good things must come to an end. And they did Aug. 31 at Heber Mogollon High School.
There, the Lady Longhorns’ 2-0 record absorbed its first blemish with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the homestanding Mustangs.
Since Mogollon is a 2A school and Payson is a member of the 3A ranks, the loss has to be considered an upset, but coach Stonebrink predicted before the team traveled to Heber that the Lady Mustangs would be a formidable bunch.
“Mogollon is a tough team, definitely the best we played so far this year,” he said. “They are good enough to make you pay for your mistakes and 20 service errors definitely hurt us.”
Now that the girls have tasted the sting of defeat, the goal of the players should now be, Stonebrink said, “learn from our rash of errors and learn how to adjust in the game, and not afterward.”
In the skirmish, Payson lost the first two sets 25-21 and 25-17 before rallying to win the second two 25-23 and 25-17. In the final rubber set, Payson fell 15-11.
“It was a wild match, Mogollon completely shut down our hitting game with their 6-foot-3-inch middle hitter and other tall girls,” Stonebrink said. “It was amazing we managed to keep it as close as it was with our ineffective hitting and serving errors.”
The coach attributes the Lady Horns’ ability to battle on relatively even terms with the Mustangs to Rachel DiFelice’s and Megan Wessel’s stellar passing and solid defense from the entire team.
DiFelice also led the team in digs with 18.
The coach cited Katelyn Curtis, Trinity England and Kelsey Waugh for their stuff assists.
Setter Rachel Creighton led the team in hitting efficiency with a .400 mark.
“She had several well-placed tips to deep corners and just behind the block,” said Stonebrink.
The coach also absorbed some of the blame for the slow start saying he made a mistake in writing the lineup card.
“Instead of putting the outside hitters opposite each other, I mistakenly put them only two spots from each other,” he said.
Stonebrink believed that mix up caused some confusion among the players.
But, hey he’s man enough to step up and shoulder the blame. There are some who would not do that.
After correcting the error for the third and fourth sets, the girls improved.
“We made better decisions on our hits, getting a few tips kills and Rachel began abusing the Mustang defense with her deceptive tips,” Stonebrink said.
In the rubber set, the two teams battled back and fourth with the score tied 10-10 at one point.
But then Mogollon went on a 5-1 run to nail down the win.
Following the loss, Stonebrink cited Cami Barnett for her team-high 10 kills and six aces that included a run of four consecutive in the fourth set.
He also lauded Trinity England for three aces and Creighton for 23 assists.