Throughout the volleyball preseason, coach Arnold Stonebrink has fretted over the day he and his staff would finally have to select the varsity players on one of the deepest rosters in his seven years at the helm of the program.
The decision became even more difficult late in the summer when the “B” team actually outplayed the “A” squad in two tournaments, including the Payson Invitational.
At that point, Stonebrink figured, “The competition for varsity spots will be ferocious.”
And that it was during tryouts held during the week of Aug. 8.
With tryouts at an end and the campaign to tip off in earnest Aug. 30 at Snowflake, the coach has settled on a 10-player squad comprised of veterans and newcomers.
In that crew, Stonebrink will be searching for replacements for two of last year’s stalwarts — Trinity England and Rachel DiFelice.
England graduated with the Class of 2011 and DiFelice moved to Fountain Hills.
During the summer months, the Lady Horns looked like they had picked up a gem in track star Morgan Chilson, who sparkled as an outside hitter and server.
As much promise as she showed, Chilson opted not to turn out for the team.
The Lady Horns do, however, have a proven, big-time player in Katelyn Curtis who can play outside hitter or middle hitter.
Curtis played right side hitter as a sophomore two years ago and then moved to middle where she was All-East region and All-State honorable mention.
“She is very adept at outside and where she plays will depend on how the other players shake out in those positions,” Stonebrink said.
Emmee Ashby is another candidate to play middle hitter.
During the summer, she was the lone sophomore to play on the A team that included three seniors and three juniors.
Stonebrink said that as a freshman Ashby was good, but since has “worked very hard on her game and played club ball.”
Ashby has sprouted to 5 feet, 11 inches in height and has not lost any of her coordination, which makes her a prime fit on the front line.
Following a summer tournament in Winslow, Stonebrink lauded her saying, “She was downright dominating on defense, registering several stuffs.”
Kayla Woolwine has also shown during the off-season she can capably hold down the all-important middle hitter position.
At the Winslow tournament, Stonebrink said, “She played very well at the middle, especially considering she’s been battling sickness.”
Woolwine’s strengths appear to be hitting and blocking.
Jaden Brunson is yet another player Stonebrink can plug in at middle or outside hitter.
As important as outside and middle hitters are to the success of prep volleyball teams, it is the setter who is the playmaker, point guard or quarterback.
Payson appears to have a good one in senior Rachel Creighton. Her responsibilities during the year will be to run the offense and create scoring opportunities for her teammates. Following a summer tournament, Stonebrink praised her for “mixing well-placed sets with a few dumps and pushed to deep corners.” Her varsity backup could be her younger sister, McKenzie.
Also on the volleyball scene, fans are expecting Emma Neal to be a contributor at outside hitter. Last year, Neal was a setter, but later switched to outside and right side hitter. “She worked hard to get proficient at those positions,” said Stonebrink. During the summer, she played both positions and built a reputation for her leaping ability. “She has springs in her legs,” Stonebrink said. About her only deficiency, according to the coach, is learning to hit low sets, “but she is definitely on her way.”
In discussing Lady Horn prospects, twin sisters Kaitlyn and Megan Wessel can’t be overlooked because they are among the school’s finest all-around athletes.
At a recent practice session, the two good-naturedly teased one another about who was the best player, but fans and coaches know both will be big-time contributors.
Kaitlyn can play right side hitter and setter, and Megan is both an outside hitter and libero.
Kyleah Morgan made the team as a defensive specialist and libero, and Emma Randall, who showed promise last year spelling England on the front row, is a stellar outside hitter.
The Lady Horns make their home debut Aug. 31 in Wilson Dome vs. Notre Dame.