The Lady Longhorn volleyball team took a gigantic step toward keeping its post-season playoff hopes alive with a come-from-behind match win over the Mingus Marauders.
The win, which coach Arnold Stonebrink called “huge,” was chalked up Oct. 11 at Mingus High in Cottonwood.
In the pulsating match, the Lady Horns won the first set 25-20, but lost the next two 25-22 and 25-18, setting the stage for what could have been an easy Marauder victory.
But rising up off the canvas much like a tenacious heavyweight boxer, the team rallied for 25-18 and 15-8 wins to escape Marauder-land with a hard-fought and much-needed match victory.
The triumph, however, does not mean Stonebrink and his players can relax, cool down and enjoy a deep breath of relief.
That’s because there’s no time for rest, as the team must now prepare for a crucial showdown Oct. 18 in Wilson Dome against a very good Fountain Hills crew.
“They are number five in the state and although we managed a win on their court a few weeks ago, they can be, and have been lethal,” said Stonebrink.
If the Lady Horns can scratch and claw their way to a win over the Falcons and follow it up with another triumph over Mingus on Oct. 20 in Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns could be doing the bump and grind at the 16-team Big Dance when it begins Nov. 4.
Reaching the Division III or “state” tournament has been a team goal since the onset of the season
Following the “W” in Mingus, Stonebrink lauded his players, saying “our hitting was on this game,” while singling out Emmee Ashby who finished with an eye-popping 25 hits, 13 kills, no errors and a .520 average.
“Absolutely beasty hitting,” said Stonebrink.
Kaitlyn Wessel contributed eight kills and Rachel Creighton and Megan Wessel chipped in with seven each.
Rachel Creighton also led the team in assists with 43.
At the line, Marci Maupin, Megan Wessel and McKenzie Creighton combined for 28 service winners.
Serve receiving was also a strong point as Megan Wessel turned in a performance the coach is calling “phenomenal.”
For the game, Megan, usually a libero, was moved to outside hitter and replaced by Kaylee Byers who led the team in digs.
Megan’s sister, Kaitlyn, also drew praise for her serve receiving.
After falling behind the Marauders, 2-1, a bit of Stonebrink-devised strategy helped turn the tide in Payson’s favor.
First, coaches and players believed the Mingus setter was holding the ball too long and should be penalized for “lifts.”
Team captain Rachel Creighton made that plea to the referee who apparently agreed, penalizing the MHS setter several times after that.
Another ploy was to move Curtis, who had started at middle hitter, to an outside position.
“Katelyn had, up to that point, really struggled with one kill and four errors,” said Stonebrink.
In the fourth set, after being on the bench earlier, Curtis responded at outside hitter with a sterling effort that helped pace PHS to the match-tying win.
Following the team’s return to Payson, Stonebrink praised Curtis for her sportsman-like, team-first attitude saying she didn’t sulk when lifted from the game and rather “was positive and encouraging in the huddle and cheered from the sidelines.”
In the fifth and final set vs. Mingus, Megan Wessel jump-started the Lady Horns with three straight service winners. Rachel Creighton cranked up the offense with standout passing, and Ashby scored three kills to keep the Cottonwood team at bay.