The 2012 Payson Volleyball Invitational will be the largest in history, with 24 teams, but whether it will be the best ever remains to be seen.
However, the presence of some of the top teams in the state, including some representing the so called “big schools” and traditional powerhouses from Northern Arizona, should render the tournament one of the most competitive regular season showdowns in the state.
Defending tournament champion Blue Ridge, Chinle, Mingus, Fountain Hills, Tuba City and Coconino are expected to enter talented and well-coached teams that could contend for tournament honors.
But the favorite might be a Florence Gopher team that during the off-season gave the Longhorn summer team, and every other school it faced, fits.
At the Payson Summer Invitational on July 21 in Wilson Dome, Florence dominated play, taking the number-one seed and an unbeaten record into the championship showdown against Payson.
The Lady Gophers entered the finale having demolished every team they faced during the PHS-hosted tournament and with wins over Payson in the Blue Ridge and Florence invitationals earlier this summer.
Rendering the gophers doubly tough was the presence of a dominating outside hitter, who few opponents could counter or contend with throughout the summer.
Although Florence was holding the star power, Payson won the first set easily 21-11.
In the second set, the Lady Horns jumped out to 10-5 and 13-9 leads, but the Gophers outscored PHS 12-3 late to win 21-16.
The split of the first two sets set up a crucial third showdown with all the tournament marbles at stake.
Florence led early 7-4, but Payson roared back to take a 10-8 lead and a triple-championship point advantage.
The Gophers, however, refused to bend under the pressure, tying the score at 10-10 and tallying the winning point on a block.
In the Payson Invitational, the Lady Horns will face the Gophers, and every other team they take on over the two days, with a squad coach Arnold Stonebrink considers one of his finest ever.
“They seem to not only have great ability, but also seem to have some extra maturity,” the coach said. “They play at a very even keel.”
Individually, he lauds McKenzie Creighton, Sydney Samuels, Emma Randall and Kaitlyn Wessel for their play, especially in the Payson summer tournament.
For the opening day’s play today, Friday, the 24 tournament teams are assigned to one of four pools — purple, gold, black and green
Payson is aligned in the gold pool with Florence, Holbrook, Ganado, Tempe and Coolidge.
Payson games in pool play are at 10:25 a.m., 11:30 a.m., noon, 12:20 p.m., 1:10 p.m. and 2:50 p.m.
All of the Lady Horns’ games are in Wilson Dome except for the 10:15 game, which will be in Rim Country Middle School. Games will also be played at Julia Randall Elementary School but the Lady Horns have no pool games there.
At the conclusion of pool play, during this evening’s hours, the tournament will feature cross-pool play with teams playing opponents from opposite pools who finished with similar records and final standings.
For example, the No. 1 finishers in pool play will play one another as will the No. 2 finishers and so on.
Tomorrow, Saturday, action shifts to double elimination tournaments with the top 12 teams aligned in the championship bracket and the remaining 12 teams assigned to the consolation bracket.
Action begins at 8 a.m. and will be played every 50 minutes throughout the day.
Two games to 25 points will be played and a third, if necessary, will be to 11 points.
The championship game is set for 7:40 p.m., and an “If” game, if needed, will be played at 8:30 p.m.
At the conclusion of the tournament, awards will be given to the winners of both the championship and consolation brackets.
Also, coaches will vote to select an all-tournament team and a most valuable player will be honored.
On both days, the concession stand will be open and souvenir tournament T-shirts will be sold.