Aspiring Payson High volleyball team members just returned from a one-day tournament in Winslow where they lost a 25-24 heartbreaker to defending state champion Monument Valley.
“It was our first opportunity since last season to see if we could replace last year’s players who departed, especially graduating senior Trinity England and transfer Rachel DiFelice, who moved to Fountain Hills,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink. “I had a small team, just seven players, but they made up for it in desire.”
In 15-minute timed games, the Payson team defeated Winslow B 28-18, and then Monument Valley B 26-17. Then the girls played what the coach felt would be the most formidable opponent in pool play, Holbrook A. The girls came through, winning 24-20. Then came 22-15 and 23-18 wins over Snowflake C and Valley respectively.
The 5-0 record gave Payson the pool, and earned it a No. 3 seed in the single-elimination championship bracket. “We were able to top a scrappy Snowflake B team, 25-21,” Stonebrink said.
Payson moved to the semifinals, where it faced defending state champion Monument Valley A. Even though that team lost graduating Bradly Nash (now playing for the University of New Mexico) and retiring coach Lucinda Nash, it didn’t seem to have lost a beat. To that point, the team was undefeated in the tournament, including a slaughter of Tuba City.
“They showed their championship mettle by spotting us a two-point lead, and then ripping off eight straight points,” Stonebrink said.
Payson was finally able to get a decent pass off the terrific Mustang server and began to chip away at the MV lead, scoring two here, and three there, and actually took the lead at 13-12.
“Crisp passing and tough, smart hitting, coupled with error-free ball, brought us back,” Stonebrink said.
“The roll continued, and we could taste victory at 23-18 (first one to 25 would win). But they sided out, and then they showed their veteran experience. Instead of thinking, ‘If I don’t get this serve in, they go to game point,’ the Mustang server served tough, and hard. She nailed four straight winners, including some aces. We complicated the turn of events by pressing and getting some bad spikes. She would have nailed a fifth straight winner, but she stepped on the serving line,” the coach said.
Payson had two match points at 24-23, but couldn’t close the deal — a Mustang kill and a passing error by Payson took Monument Valley to a heartbreaking 25-24 victory.
Monument Valley went on to crush Snowflake A in the championship, 25-14.
Senior Rachel Creighton, who did a superb job mixing well-placed sets with a few dumps and pushes to deep corners, anchored the offense.
Katelyn Curtis again proved her versatility by playing outside hitter. Her sophomore year she played right side hitter, before switching to middle. Last year at middle, she made all-region and honorable mention at state. But she is very adept at outside, and where she plays in the fall will depend on how the other players shake out in those two positions. Katelyn played extremely well; especially considering it was her first competition ever at outside hitter.
Track star Morgan Chilson began to really show her volleyball savvy, hitting hard and consistently at outside hitter and right side hitter. She was also probably Payson’s best server until she strained her shoulder a bit.
Kayla Woolwine played very well at middle, especially considering she’s been battling sickness. She hit and blocked very well. Kyleah Morgan was consistent in the back row playing libero.
“I probably was most tickled by the play of Shayna Neal and Emmee Ashby,” Stonebrink said.
At this time last year, Shayna was a setter. But she was switched to outside and right side hitter, and she worked hard to get proficient at those positions. She was thrilled to play on the A team, and she showed it by registering kill after kill from both positions. Like Morgan, she has springs in her legs, and it’s finally coming together. She still needs to learn how to hit low sets, but she’s definitely on her way.
Emmee Ashby was Payson’s lone sophomore, as the team had three seniors and three juniors. Last year, on the freshman team she was good, but not great, the coach said.
However, she worked very hard on her game and played club ball. She also grew several inches. Often, growth spurts are accompanied by lack of coordination, but this didn’t happen to Emmee. She is 5’11” now and still growing. She was in sync with Rachel and hit very well, and was downright dominating on defense, registering several stuffs, Stonebrink said.
The B team, comprised mostly of freshmen, took its lumps early, going 0-3 against Snowflake A, Winslow A and Monument Valley C teams. But it rebounded to take care of Holbrook B, and then in a huge upset, squeaked by Page A. Their day ended with a first-round loss in the consolation bracket to Valley.