With a goal of showing well in their third tournament of the 2011 season, the Lady Longhorn volleyball team heads to Snowflake today, Sept. 23.
On Sept. 2-3, PHS finished fourth in the 21-team Payson Invitational and followed it up with a third place effort on Sept. 10 in the Flagstaff Coconino Invitational.
Payson also travels to Lobo land today with a bit of burden having found out early this week on the Arizona Interscholastic Association Web site that just 16 Division IV teams will qualify for the “state tournament” set to begin Nov. 4.
Coach Arnold Stonebrink and his players had been led to believe 24 schools would qualify.
“We are ranked No. 18 (in power points), so we’ll probably have to win most of our games here on out to make the postseason,” Stonebrink said.
The Lady Horns have a chance to do just that if they play to the level they did in a Sept. 14 three-game sweep of powerful Fountain Hills
“That was a huge win,” said Stonebrink.
Payson edged out a narrow, 25-23 victory in the first set and won the second 25-21.
By winning the final set 25-18, the Lady Horns left little doubt which was the superior team.
“The win was very satisfying not only because the Falcons are strong year in and year out, but also because we went 0-4 against them last year,” said the coach.
In the first set, Payson clung to a six-point lead until late in the game when a FH player served six winners to tie the set at 21-21.
“We finally got a side out and gutted out the close win,” Stonebrink said.
The second set was equally as close as the first before the Lady Horns edged out in front in the late minutes.
In the crucial third set, Payson fell behind 9-4 prompting Stonebrink to signal for a time out.
The strategy, which was obviously to calm the players, worked as the team rallied from behind and rode Kaitlyn Wessel’s four-point service run to a lead.
Kaitlyn’s twin sister, Megan, then went on a three-point run to nail down the W.
“Megan had a beautiful game serving, leading the team with nine service winners and four aces,” said Stonebrink. The coach also lauded senior setter Rachel Creighton saying, “She led the team in serving efficiency and had three aces vs. no errors.”
Also in the game, Katelyn Curtis led the Lady Horns in passing and hitting to go along with her seven kills and just one error.
Emmee Ashby finished with nine kills and Jaden Brunson contributed eight.
Megan Wessel paced the team in digs with 19.
The match was a reunion of sorts for PHS players, coaches and two former Lady Horns who now play for Fountain Hills.
Sisters Rachel and Morgan DiFelice both started for the Falcons holding down the libero and outside hitter positions.
Last summer, their family moved to Fountain Hills from Payson.
Stonebrink was elated with his team’s win, but uttered a few misgivings say, “It’s not fun beating someone you are so close to and miss so much.”
On the junior varsity level, PHS moved to 6-0 with a win.
The freshmen lost a cliffhanger, 2-1.
A day before traveling to Fountain Hills, the Lady Horns hosted Camp Verde in Wilson Dome winning 25-21, 25-12 and 25-23.
A key to the win was effective hitting led by Kaitlyn Wessel, Ashby, Brunson, Emma Randall and Curtis.
Brunson and Randall had eight kills each.
Scottsdale in three
After posting impressive wins over Camp Verde and Fountain Hills, the Lady Horns traveled to Scottsdale Saguaro hoping to expand on their winning streak.
The goal, however, came up short as the Sabercats swept 25-16, 26-24 and 25-20.
“It was the Sabercats’ serving that did us in,” Stonebrink said. “I don’t blame our girls, we just haven’t seen terrific serving like that in years.
“Three or four of their servers gave us fits with their hard floaters.”
Following the loss, Stonebrink lauded several of his athletes including Curtis and Ashby, both middle hitters.
“Both were on fire for us,” he said.
The pair tied for the team lead in digs with nine and Ashby paced the Lady Horns in service winners.
“Emmee was strong all the way around,” said Stonebrink.
“Her three aces, and 1.50 serving efficiency also led the team as did her hitting efficiency and nine kills in 13 attempts with only one error.”
The coach also cited Rachel Creighton and Megan Wessel for their serve receiving even though their passing percentage was not stellar at less than 1.80.
“In fact, our team average of 1.57 is the worst any Payson team has done in years,” Stonebrink said.
If there is to be another match vs. Saguaro in the future, the coach is confident his team can play on even terms with the Scottsdale crew.
“If we can figure out how to pass their tough serves, I believe we can hang with them — even have a shot of upsetting them,” he predicts.