Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink should be excused if seen dancing the jig along Beeline.
After all, he has good reasons for performing the lively folk dance having just watched his team turn in its best-ever summer tournament performance in the nine years he’s been at the helm of the program.
“We took second, and came close to winning it all,” Stonebrink said. “The results of the tournament make us very excited for the upcoming season.
“We have a veteran bunch of girls that don’t get too high nor too low.”
The championship finale of the Payson Summer Invitational — which was played in its entirety July 21 in Wilson Dome — pitted the Lady Horns against number-one seeded and unbeaten Florence.
The Lady Gophers entered the gold medal game having demolished every team it faced during the PHS-hosted tournament and with wins over Payson in the Blue Ridge and Florence invitationals earlier this summer.
A dominating outside hitter, which no opponent could counter or contend with throughout the summer, paced the Gophers.
The Payson girls, however, refused to be intimidated by Florence’s star and 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 resulting in the next point scored being the winner.
Payson seemed on the verge of a victory after a set and strong hit from a front line hitter.
But a Florence player soared high to block the hit, sending it back over the net for the set-winning point.
Lady Horns enter four
A field of 20 summer teams showed up for the tournament including four Lady Longhorn squads — A, B, C and D.
The A team was comprised of players who will most likely play varsity during the upcoming season.
The B team finished 2-2 in pool play and was third of five teams in its pool.
In cross-pool play, however, the team compiled a 1-2 record, ending their hopes of playing in the day-ending championship bracket.
Relegated to the consolation bracket as a number-two seed, the team played its way to the semifinals where it fell to Holbrook.
“Their effort made them the best performing and highest finishing non-A team in the tournament,” said Stonebrink.
The C team played to a number-eight seed in the consolation bracket, but went one-and-out.
The D team, which earned the number six seed in the consolation bracket, also went one-and-out.
The A team easily won its first three games of pool play before falling 25-24 to a Mesquite team that was also 3-0.
In cross-pool play for second place pool finishers, Payson lost to Moon Valley 25-23, but roared back to beat Tonopah 25-18 and Mingus 25-14.
The win over the Marauders, Stonebrink said, “Bodes well for us; we play them twice in the (2012) regular season and of course our late-season loss to them last season knocked us out of a state berth.”
With the showing in pool and cross-pool action, the Lady Horns took a number-six seed into the championship bracket where the team opened with 21-12 and 21-10 wins over Coolidge.
In the semifinals, Payson shot down Window Rock, 21-10 and 21-10, setting up the gold medal clash against Florence.
Stonebrink’s strategy against the Gophers was to serve hard and away from their talented outside hitters and cheat the Lady Horn middle blockers over to be able to have a strong, two-person block.
In the first set, the strategy worked to perfection, setting up Payson’s 10-point victory.
But in the second set, Florence adjusted by setting their phenomenal outside hitter from the back row.
“Even from 10 feet away, she (the outside hitter) was able to pound the ball down for kills,” Stonebrink said. “We had no answer for their back row hits.”
While the team didn’t win the gold medal the players were hoping for, it did put on a sterling performance that has fans predicting this year the team will earn the berth to state that the Lady Horns narrowly miss out on in 2011.
Next up for the summer team is the annual alumni tournament that beings at 6 p.m. Aug. 4 in Wilson Dome.
In past years, the event has also included a benefit steak dinner.
This year, however, there will be no benefit, only the tournament.
Tryouts are set for Aug. 6.