Clutching a Class 3A No. 3 power points ranking, the highest in school history, the Lady Longhorn volleyball teams appears to be riding high.
But an upcoming stretch of games against the conference’s finest teams could have the Lady Horns struggling.
“Now our schedule turns brutal,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink. “We’ll find out just how good we really are.
“Seven of our nine remaining games are against Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Fountain Hills and Flagstaff, who have a combined match record of 25-9.”
The rough and tumble stint tips off tonight, Sept. 28, in Wilson Dome against powerful Blue Ridge.
The Yellow Jackets have won both the Snowflake and Payson Invitationals, making the team a prime contender for the state championship.
The BR vs. PHS match will also be a showdown between the East’s only two undefeated teams.
“We’ll have to really dig deep and play strong, error-free ball to pull out a victory,” said Stonebrink.
Competition doesn’t get any easier Sept. 30 when Payson hosts the Snowflake Lobos in another crucial showdown.
The prospect of challenging the Yellow Jackets and Lobos has the coach pumped.
“I’m excited to be playing the tough teams and being able to prove whether or not we deserve such a high (power points) ranking.”
The easy end of the PHS schedule wrapped up Sept. 23 in Whiteriver where the Lady Horns beat Alchesay 3-0, despite not having three of the team’s premier players on the court.
Trinity England, Katelyn Curtis and Rachel Creighton were not available to play because they were taking part in a school-sanctioned activity that pairs high school girls with fifth-graders.
Payson managed to win easily 25-15, 25-11 and 25-15 to improve the team’s match record to 8-1.
Stonebrink’s strategy was to move players around to replace the missing athletes, asking defensive specialist Rylee Halenar and right side hitter Kaitlyn Wessel to share the setting duties. Also, Emma Randall replaced England in the front row and Kyleah Morgan played back row for England.
“Those who stepped into the away starters’ place did a very nice job,” said Stonebrink.
Halenar finished with 10 assists and Kaitlyn Wessel had seven. Randall hit efficiently and Morgan passed and served as if they were regular varsity starters.
Much of Stonebrink’s praise, however, went to Kayla Woolwine.
“Not only did she step in for Katelyn (Curtis) and just flat out rip up, she led the team in hitting and serving,” said Stonebrink.
In 13 hits, she rocked the Falcons for seven kills and no errors. She also finished with four aces and a serving efficiency worthy of a budding star.
The coach also praised the team’s serving, especially from Kelsey Waugh and Jordan Fruth who each had nine service winners.
Waugh also contributed four aces and Fruth had three.
Among the underclassmen vs. Alchesay, the junior varsity won handily to improve to 8-1.
Varsity game time tonight and Thursday is 6:30.