The Lady Longhorn volleyball team will try to turn in its second impressive tournament performance of the early season when it travels tomorrow, Sept. 10, to Flagstaff to compete in the Coconino Invitational.
The players make the visit fresh off a fourth-place finish in probably what was the most competitive field to ever enter the Payson Invitational Tournament.
The field was also the largest ever — up to 21 teams from previous limit of 18 schools. The invitational was played Sept. 2 and 3 in three school district gymnasiums.
Following the invitational, coach Arnold Stonebrink lauded his players’ efforts saying the entire roster stepped up to play well during a marathon-like two days in which the team competed first in pool play, then in cross-pool action and finally in the championship bracket.
Senior setter Rachel Creighton paced the Lady Horns throughout the two days playing the role of quarterback, point guard and playmaker.
Following the invitational, coaches voted her to the all-tournament team, which Stonebrink said, “Was deservedly so.”
JVs step up
The coach also praised jayvee players, including Kaylee Byers and Jade Holland, who were called up to the varsity when two regulars, Kayla Woolwine and Katelyn Curtis, were sidelined with injuries and the team lost players to ineligibility.
Holland, only a sophomore, performed exceptionally well in her varsity debut leading the team in hitting with a .266 efficiency mark.
Curtis eventually returned to play in the tournament, but Woolwine, the team’s starting middle hitter, did not play after injuring her ankle in a win over Joseph City.
Woolwine’s ankle swelled almost immediately, prompting trainers to take her to the hospital for treatment.
Her status is day-to-day.
In pool play at the PI, the Lady Horns lost only once and were involved in a three-way tie for first place.
In a tiebreaker, however, Payson fell to second, which was the slot used as a seed for cross-pool play on Friday evening.
In it, the Lady Horns turned in a rock solid performance against eventual tournament champion Tuba City, but lost a squeaker.
The team rebounded quickly to dump Agua Fria.
Armed with a No. 5 seed the team had the bad luck of opening championship bracket play against formidable Tuba City, a team expected to contend for the D-IV “state” championship.
After falling 25-21 the team rebounded to win the second game 25-20. In the rubber match, TC nipped the Lady Horns 21-19.
The loss dropped Payson into the losers bracket where action is fast and furious as teams struggle to battle fatigue and remain in contention.
Payson did just that defeating Holbrook, Safford and Mingus before losing the bronze medal clash to Blue Ridge, which finished third.
Tuba City defeated Florence in the championship finale.
Tomorrow at the Coconino Invitational, Payson’s stiffest competition might come from the two hometown teams — Coco and Flagstaff.
Both are senior-laden squads and Flag returns five seniors off last year’s team that was 21-8 and unbeaten in the now-defunct Grand Canyon Region.
The Eagles opened the season with a 3-0 win over Page.
At Coco, coach Angela Vargas will rely upon her senior captains Courtney Hurst and Katie Casados for leadership, but it is sophomore Marissa Hoffman who is the team’s go to hitter.
Coco opened the season with a 3-1 loss to Sedona Red Rock, but beat Winslow 3-0.
Dons done in
In preparation for the Coco Invitational, the Horns traveled Sept. 6 to Scottsdale Coronado where Payson prevailed 3-2 over the Dons.
In the first set, Payson lost 25-20, but rebounded to win the second 25-22. Payson dropped the third 25-21 and was on the verge of losing the match.
But coach Arnold Stonebrink made several personnel and strategy changes that enabled the Lady Horns to win set four 25-14 and set five, 15-8.
Among the adjustments the coach opted for with his team down 2-1 was to move Curtis from outside hitter to middle hitter.
Stonebrink said Curtis responded with much improved hitting efficiency.
Another strategy change was inserting McKenzie Creighton to serve.
“McKenzie has a jump serve that doesn’t have great velocity, but it has great movement and gives teams fits,” he said.
McKenzie finished the night with what the coach is calling “amazing” stats — 11 serves, six aces, no errors and nine winners.
The final change that turned the tide in Payson’s favor was putting Holland into Curtis’ outside hitting position.
“She responded beautifully with good consistent serving, solid passing and smart hitting,” Stonebrink said.
The coach also praised Emma Randall and Emmee Ashby for their hitting.
Randall had 41 attempts, 17 kills and just four errors.
Ashby had 20 attempts, nine kills and one error.
Twins Kaitlyn and Megan Wessel led the team in digging with a combined 26 digs.
Curtis and the two Wessels also drew praise for their passing and Rachel Creighton was cited for her play as setter.