The Lady Longhorns would advance to the Division III volleyball tournament as a No. 14 seed and play 3-seeded Safford if the players were to tip off today rather than next Friday, Nov. 2.
In that scenario, the Bulldogs would be huge favorites because of the much higher seed, but the Lady Horns have proved they are the equal of Safford, having won two of three from the team in the Snowflake Invitational Tournament in September.
The state showdown, however, doesn’t begin for another week and with some schools having regular-season games remaining to be played, the power point rankings could change.
That would mean Payson could either move up in the state seedings or fall.
It’s highly unlikely, however, the Lady Horns will drop out of the top 16 which are the teams that will advance to state.
“Still some games to be played around the state, but I think we will make it to state,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink. “Fingers are crossed.”
Not advancing to state seemed midway through the season almost an impossibility because the Lady Horns were 9-1 and highly ranked in power points.
But then the wheels came off the Payson wagon as the team went on a tailspin, losing six consecutive matches to put their playoff aspirations in danger.
Stonebrink admit he is befuddled by the streak but contends it is somewhat understandable, “A lot of those losses were against killer teams and a lot were against hot teams.”
Falcons squeak by
One of the toughest defeats to absorb was homestanding Fountain Hills’ 3-2 victory on Oct. 16.
In the first set, the Lady Horns jumped out to an early 7-2 lead and continued to hold on to the cushion until the Falcons rallied to take a 25-24 lead and later win 28-26.
In the second set, Fountain Hills took advantage of the Lady Horns’ 10 hitting errors to run away with a 25-11 victory.
The never-say-die Lady Longhorns rallied to win the third set 29-27 in overtime and took the fourth 25-14.
In the fifth and final set, Payson jumped out 5-2 and appeared to be on the way to a match victory.
But lo and behold, Fountain Hills came alive to rally for a 15-11 triumph.
“I don’t know how they did it, but they transformed from fatigued and listless to energized and fired up,” said Stonebrink. “I’d really thought we’d win that last set.”
Individually and oddly enough, Payson’s two hitters in the match were reserves.
Outside hitter Jade Holland led the team with a .483 mark and 15 kills. Rachel Larned finished at .375 with 16 kills.
Kaylee Stonebrink led the team in serving efficiency and Kaitlyn Wessel was tops in service winners with 14 and also aces with four.
Emma Randall, Kaylee Byers and Harley Turney paced PHS in serve receiving.
No guarantee this time
On Oct. 20 in Wilson Dome, Payson returned to action vs. Mingus with a goal of winning and guaranteeing themselves a spot in the playoffs.
But a “W” was not to be as the Marauders swept the match, winning 27-17, 25-19 and 26-24.
“We didn’t play horribly, but we didn’t play great,” said Stonebrink.
Although PHS was blindsided in the first two sets, the team came alive in the third and seemed to be on track for a win.
“We had our chances, but still found ourselves behind 24-21,” said Stonebrink. “Three straight points, including Taylor Randall’s kill brought us to a tie, but we lost in overtime.”
The coach partly attributed the defeat to poor hitting in which the team compiled a .009 mark, a tally Stonebrink calls “abysmal.”
The coach did, however, credit Emma Randall, Taylor Randall and Shayna Neal for good individual hitting.
Emma Randall had seven kills to lead the team.
Back-row standouts Megan Wessel, Kaitlyn Wessel, Emma Randall and Byers drew praise for their serve receiving.
Neal paced the team in serving efficiency and Kelsee Stonebrink tallied eight service winners to lead the team.
Setter Mckenzie Creighton led the PHS in assists with 22.
Rough and ready Notre Dame
After falling to Mingus, currently No. 12 in power points, the Lady Horns hosted a Notre Dame prep team that is second ranked in Division II and among the favorites to win the state title.
Although the Lady Horns lost 25-11, 26-24 and 25-17, Stonebrink called his team’s effort “one of our best matches of the year.”
The Saints, he added, “showed a very potent, powerful offense but our blockers and passers did a great job of slowing them down a little.
“The girls played a terrific match, losing not withstanding.”
Individually, the coach praised Emma Randall, saying, “She was a warrior this night, leading the team with 11 kills and hitting .205.”
Kaitlyn Wessel paced the squad in hitting and shined in the back row with her 2.41 serve receiving mark.
Creighton was top in assists, dishing out 25.
The coach didn’t hesitate in praising the Saints, saying their serve receiving was outstanding as evidenced by Payson’s one ace, that by Cierra Rose.
Neal recorded six service winners to pace PHS.
All regular-season matches are expected to be completed by today, Oct. 26, and the tournament bracket seedings announced over the weekend.
Both the first and second rounds will be played Nov. 2 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. The semifinals and championship matches will be contested the following day, Saturday, also at the Toyota Center.