If there is a given in the Lady Longhorn volleyball program, it’s that the 2011 roster will be unusually deep sporting a bevy of players capable of performing on the varsity level.
Proof of the all-important depth surfaced July 23 during the Payson Summer Invitational Tournament in which the “B” team, supposedly made up of junior varsity players, outplayed the Payson “A” or varsity team.
Among the 20 teams that entered the summer fray, the B team finished second overall and the A squad was third.
“Shelli Creighton coached the B team to the wins over varsity squads,” said head coach Arnold Stonebrink. “It illustrates the depth we have in the program.”
The surprisingly strong showing of the B players has Stonebrink making interesting predictions about next year’s team — one on which most of the depth will be supplied by the sophomore and junior classes.
“The competition for varsity spots will be ferocious, especially at outside hitter and middle hitter,” he anticipates.
At the tourney
The invitational tipped off with pool play in which both Payson teams went undefeated.
The A squad defeated 2-0, Tonopah A, Tolleson B and Apache Junction A.
The B team defeated Cortez, Moon Valley and Apache Junction C. Cortez and Moon Valley were Class 4A schools last season.
While the Lady Horn varsity breezed in most victories, the first game vs. AJ was a barnburner in which the visitors led 24-19 late in the game.
Just when the situation looked dismal for Payson, the Lady Horns scored a crucial side out to salvage a chance for a rally.
“Rachel Creighton proceeded to serve five straight winners, the last on an emphatic kill by Shayna Neil to pull out a 25-24 win,” the coach said.
Next on the tournament agenda was cross-pool play in which both Payson teams played No. 1 finishers from other pools.
In the varsity’s first match, the team was pitted against a rock solid Florence A team that had dominated every summer tournament it had played in including Safford, Florence and the 32-team Blue Ridge Invitational.
Throughout the heated game, the Lady Horns played their hearts out eventually deadlocking the score at 24-24.
“We hit hard and well and covered and battled,” said Stonebrink.
But in the end, the Gophers polished off the Lady Horns with a kill to win 25-24.
With the loss, Payson A was forced to play their counterparts on Payson B.
“On paper, we (Payson A) should have won without too much problem,” said Stonebrink. “But the attitudes of the two teams were decidedly different.”
The B team, he said, was buoyed by a nothing-to-lose attitude and an aggressive style of play.
“We (A team), on the other hand, were tentative and playing not to lose.”
In a fiercely fought rivalry clash, the two PHS squads battled to a 29-29 tie, but in overtime, B scored the final point to pull off the remarkable upset 30-29.
The A team’s shoddy play continued with a narrow loss to Florence B before the team rebounded to defeat defending tournament champion North Canyon by a 29-24 count.
Payson B, in addition to whipping the PHS A team, defeated North Canyon before dropping a one-point decision to eventual tournament champion Florence.
The B team finished 2-2 in cross-pool play and advanced to the championship bracket as a No. 3 seed. The A squad was 1-3 and earned a No. 4 seed.
In the championship bracket, PHS A got off to a roaring start hammering No. 4 seeded North Canyon 30-8.
Waiting in the wings, however, was red-hot Florence A.
In the much-anticipated semifinal clash, PHS played the Gophers to a virtual standstill, tying the visitors 26-26 in regulation. Emmee Ashby scored the game-tying point on a stuff with just 9 seconds remaining to be played.
As spirited as Payson performed, Florence scored in OT on a pass, set, spike and kill to pull out a 27-26 “W.”
Following the gut-wrenching loss, Stonebrink cited middle hitters Taylor Randall and Ashby for “their tremendous kill productions.”
He also lauded the entire team saying, “they fought with all their guts, and nearly knocked off an extremely good team, twice.
“I think it bodes well for the upcoming season.”
The Payson B team opened championship bracket play with wins over Holbrook and Apache Junction A.
Those victories propelled PHS into the championship game against powerful Florence A.
At one point in the game, Payson pulled to within 15-12, but eventually fell 30-19.
“Ran out of gas,” Stonebrink said.
Nonetheless, the B squad surprised most everyone taking second place overall.
Window Rock won the consolation title.
For Payson B, coaches praised Jaden Brunson for her hitting from both the middle and outside hitter positions.
McKenzie Creighton drew plaudits for leading the team in assists and her work as a standout setter.
“Jordyn Fruth was steady all day in passing,” said Stonebrink.
Next on the agenda for prospective volleyball players is a pre-tryout camp to be held after school July 28 and July 29 and again on Aug. 4 and Aug. 5.
The fee is $5 per player.
On Aug. 6, the annual alumni tournament and game will be played in Wilson Dome. The 6:30 p.m. alumni vs. varsity game will be preceded by a benefit barbecue chicken dinner set to begin at 4:30 p.m.
The tournament game is opened to anyone who formerly played varsity volleyball for the Lady Longhorns.