The Lady Longhorn volleyball team begins pursuit of post-season honors today, Tuesday, against a Snowflake Lobo team that over the past decade has been one of Payson’s fiercest rivals.
This season should be no different because both PHS and SHS are members of Division III, Section III, meaning the outcome of today’s game carries extra significance and bragging rights.
Game time is 6 p.m. in Wilson Dome.
Snowflake is a junior dominated team with eight of the 10 players on the roster members of that class.
The two seniors — Briley Copelan and Brett Brewer — are the tallest among the Lobos at 5 feet, 10 inches each and both play middle blocker.
The Lady Horns will counter SHS with what coach Arnold Stonebrink is predicting, “should be one of my strongest teams ever.”
The coach’s optimism is partly because the team lost only three players last spring to graduation and returns a nucleus of solid veterans to go along with promising newcomers.
Individually, McKenzie Creighton will take over at the all-important setter position that was the last few seasons manned by her older sister, Rachel.
“She (McKenzie) is a fast study and is ready to take over,” said Stonebrink.
Outside hitter Emma Randall is among those Creighton will be setting.
“Emma had a splendid summer, hitting strong and consistently,” said Stonebrink. “Her back row play has improved so much that she will probably be there in the starting lineup.
“She’s also developed a hard, consistent serve. In other words, she has become a complete and probably at times, dominant player.”
Senior Megan Wessel will hold down the other outside hitter position, moving from the back row where she played the past two seasons.
“She has developed into an extremely smart outside hitter capable of both smashing the ball and puttin’ it where they ain’t.”
Shayne Neal, who sat out last season due to a back injury, will man the right side hitter position.
Neal, Stonebrink said, “Looks as strong as ever, with a great vertical leap. She hits very consistently and confidently on the always-difficult right side.”
Kaitlyn Wessel, Megan’s twin, will also play on the right side but may also see action at libero partly because last year she led the team in passing.
“She is a spot-on, form-adhering passer that is pretty to watch,” the coach said.
Junior Kaylle Byers should also see action at libero because, “she is smart and positive.”
Taylor Randall is expected to play tonight at middle hitter where she has become a streaky hitter capable of dominating.
The biggest surprise on the team is sophomore Sydney Samuel who developed over the summer into an efficient hitter and top-notch blocker.
“She is extremely smart, reads the block well and plays like a senior,” said Stonebrink.
Samuels is being compared to former Lady Horn star Jenna Robertson, who went on to play at the next level and built a reputation of possessing both strength and intelligence.
Tonight and throughout the season, the coach is also expecting good things from multi-talented Jade Holland, Cierra Rose and Morgan Chilson who is returning to the team after being out of the program for a year.
Rose can play both back row and right side.
In assessing the team overall, Stonebrink contends, “This may be my best passing and serving team ever.
“Out of our top six servers, none of them give the other team a chance to relax and breathe.”
Following tonight’s game vs. Snowflake, Payson will return to the court tomorrow, Aug. 29, at Notre Dame Prep in the Valley. Varsity game time is 6 p.m.
Action continues Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 with the Payson Invitational Tournament.