The Lady Longhorn volleyball team tacked a sweep of the Show Low Cougars onto an impressive second-place finish in the Payson Invitational Tournament.
The silver medal, which was scored Sept. 4 in Wilson Dome, represented the best the PHS squad has finished in the invitational tournament.
The lambasting of the Cougars, Sept. 7 in Show Low, got the Longhorns off to a 1-0 start in the East Region title chase.
Against the homestanding Cougars, Payson won 25-18, 25-16 and 25-15, prompting coach Arnold Stonebrink to say, “it was great to go in and snare a win against them on the road.”
He also lauded the Cougars, “Show Low is much better this year and they have the capability of handing an ‘L’ on a team that isn’t at the top of the game.”
Much of the credit for Payson’s impressive performance goes to stellar all-around play in which the team excelled at most facets of the game.
“Last year, we really rode our serving to be competitive — this year we’re not only tough on serving, but our passing and hitting have both really improved.”
In hitting, Katelyn Curtis led the team with a .247 efficiency mark, but the Lady Horns are also receiving fine performances from Trinity England, Cami Barnett and Kelsey Waugh.
Curtis was also credited with nine kills, two stuffs, two stuff assists and four aces.
She was at her best in the second set when she “almost single-handedly defeated Show Low,” said Stonebrink
In the back row, Rylee Halenar was “spectacular,” Stonebrink said, passing Show Low’s tough serves to the PHS setter.
Megan Wessel and England also received praise for their serve receiving. Rachel DiFelice was lauded by the coach for her 12 digs, “she was all over the court.”
She was also credited with 32 assists in the three sets.
At the serving line, Megan Wessel led the team in winners with 10 and had two aces. Rachel Creighton had nine service winners and three aces.
While the Lady Horns were able to waltz away with the “W,” the team struggled in the early going, falling behind Show Low 12-8 due to some hitting and passing errors.
But a side out and Megan Wessel’s five consecutive service winners gave PHS a 14-12 lead.
“We kept the lead, but Show Low kept things interesting,” Stonebrink said. “They were within 20-18 before we went on a Trinity England service run to score five straight (points) to take the set.”
In addition to the sterling second-place finish at the Payson Invitational, the Lady Horns picked up on a bit of revenge on the Mogollon Mustangs.
In a regular season clash on Aug. 31 in Heber, Mogollon ambushed the favored Payson girls 3-2.
But in the tournament, the Lady Horns enjoyed a bit of pay back winning 25-14 and 25-16.
“We made some adjustments to counter the tall, solid Mustang block,” said Stonebrink. “The result was a dominant win.”
Also in the tournament, the Lady Horns posted the finest record ever in pool play, 8-2.
Payson accomplished the goal by whipping a very good Safford team, 21-18 and 10-7 in the final set of pool play.
In cross pool play Friday evening, Payson fell 21-13 and 16-10 to a Blue Ridge team that is projected to be one of the finest in the 3A conference.
After that loss, the Horns went on to clash with BR two more times in the tournament.
In the early rounds of the championship bracket, Payson gave a much-improved effort against the Yellow Jackets, winning the second game 25-12, but losing the first and third 25-21 and 11-9.
“I was really proud of the girls for being able to go toe-to-toe against the team that had pasted them so badly before,” Stonebrink said. “Resiliency seems to be the strength of this team.”
In the tournament championship vs. BR, Payson won the first set 25-22.
“Our girls were excited and energized,” said Stonebrink.
The powerful Yellow Jackets, however, bounced back into contention winning the second set 25-12 and the third 25-19.
Following the tournament, Stonebrink said his ambition for the team was to continue to improve “so that we can reach our ultimate goals of winning regionals and making the final four at state.”
The team returns to action today and tomorrow, Sept. 10 and 11, in the Dysart Invitational Tournament.