It’s now a given — the Lady Longhorn volleyball team has control of its own destiny.
Which means, for Payson to reach its season-long goal of playing in the Division III or “state” tournament, the team must win upcoming matches against Mingus, today, Oct. 11, Fountain Hills, Oct. 18, and Mingus, Oct. 20.
If the Lady Horns can sweep those matches, they will most likely earn enough power points to move up to at least No. 16 in the rankings from the No. 21 slot the team now holds.
A 16th place ranking would probably give PHS a tournament berth.
While the PHS squad does have one other remaining game on its schedule vs. Notre Dame, a Division II “big school” with an 11-1 record, coach Arnold Stonebrink doesn’t want the Lady Horns’ state future to hinge on the outcome of that match.
“We can’t rely on having to win that to make it to state,” he said. “When we played them (Sept. 26), we played a pretty good match but still lost, 3-0.”
Also earlier this year, the Horns took on Fountain Hills and won in three sets, 25-23, 25-21 and 25-18. Those wins would seem to make Payson an odds-on favorite to again beat the Falcons who are currently ranked No. 5 in D-III.
But hold your water, Stonebrink is not so sure the upcoming match is easily winnable.
“The Falcons have one of their starting outside hitters back and I’m sure she’s back at full strength,” he said.
Also, Payson won that match by playing error free ball highlighted by superb passing — two important facets of the games that can’t be counted upon to show up in the rematch.
Fountain Hills is buoyed by the presence of standout passer Rachel DiFelice who last year was an all-region selection while playing for the Lady Horns. DiFelice enrolled at FHHS after her family moved to the north Valley last summer.
“She is considered one of the best passers in the state,” said Stonebrink.
Payson, however, can counter DiFelice with a libero of its own who is making a name for herself around the division.
“Megan Wessel has quietly had a superb season for us and is now No. 5 in D-III in digs per game,” Stonebrink said.
In Payson’s earlier win over Fountain Hills, Wessel was a huge contributor with her all around spirited play.
In playing Mingus twice with a possible state berth on the line, the Lady Horns can take a bit of solace knowing PHS caged the Marauders earlier this year 25-20 and 25-18.
“They made a number of hitting errors and we can’t rely on that again to win,” said Stonebrink. “Their outside hitters can put the ball down and hit line shots against us with some good success.”
The coach promises that the team will fine-tune its game plan to deal with the Marauders’ outside hitters.
The dire straits in which the Lady Horns now find themselves would have been eased a bit had the team beaten Scottsdale Saguaro Oct. 6 in Wilson Dome.
“A victory over Saguaro would have been huge for us in the quest to go to state,” Stonebrink said.
But a win was not in the cards as the Sabercats won the first set 25-23, lost the second 25-22, but rebounded to win the final two 25-22 and 25-15.
“The last set was rough, we seemed to run out of energy and Saguaro used their dominant hitting to close out the match,” said Stonebrink.
Although the Lady Horns came out on the wrong end of the score, the coach praised several players for their stellar serving including Katelyn Curtis, Megan Wessel, McKenzie Creighton and Rachel Creighton.
Kaylee Byers drew plaudits for her passing and Megan Wessel led the team in digs with 20.
As well as those athletes played, it was the Sabercats’ superior hitting that propelled the Scottsdale team to the “W.”
“Several of their hitters were on fire and we hit a fairly anemic .089,” said Stonebrink. “The only one who hit well for us was Rachel Creighton who tipped and pushed balls from the setter’s position.”
Creighton also led the team in assists and now leads D-III with an average of 7.9 per game.
“It is a real credit to our hitters and to her,” said Stonebrink. “She is very unassuming on the outside, but very competitive on the inside.”
The coach is predicting that Creighton will next year, after she graduates from PHS, take her game to the next level.