The Lady Horns volleyball team begins a demanding stretch today, Sept. 11, in which it plays three matches in the course of three days — a schedule oddity that coach Arnold Stronebrink bemoaned at the onset of the season declaring it was not good for academics or the success of the team.
But it’s not the only occasion the team will play such a challenging stretch. On Sept. 18, 19 and 20, the Lady Horns play another three-game span, this time against Mogollon, Snowflake and Coronado.
Rendering the situating even more difficult, is that on Sept. 21 and 22, the Lady Horns are entered in the Snowflake Invitational tournament.
Which means, Payson could play upwards of 10 matches in the course of five days.
It’s a schedule that would wilt the wherewithal of a seasoned professional team.
The Lady Horns tuned up for the upcoming onslaught last week with a 3-0 win over Scottsdale Coronado, a 3-1 victory vs. Show Low and a fifth-place finish at the Flagstaff Coconino Tournament.
In easily disposing of Coronado, 25-12, 25-9 and 25-14, Stonebrink had the opportunity play his entire roster while asking the girls to play a variety of positions to learn where they contributed most to the team effort.
Some players, the coach said, “Are starting to show more and more consistency.”
In the first set, Payson took a 15-12 lead before siding out.
Kaitlyn Wessel ended the drama by going on a nine-point run highlighted by several aces.
After the opening win, the Lady Horns coasted to two more “Ws” behind the serving of Kaitlyn Wessel.
“She was a wrecking crew, nailing eight aces in 17 attempts for 15 winners, and a tremendous 0.82 average,” Stonebrink said. “The team averaged 1.28; the best any Payson team has ever done in my tenure here.”
Kaitlyn Wessel continued her exploits two days later, leading the Lady Horns to a match win over Show Low in Wilson Dome.
PHS won the first set, 25-13, dropped the second, 25-23, but then won the next two, 25-20 and 27-25.
In the first set with the score dead-knotted at 10-10, Wessel went on one of her patented serving runs to lead the Lady Horns to a runaway win.
For the match, Wessel led the team with 18 service winners while her twin sister, Megan, paced the Horns in aces with four.
Emma Randall was also at the top of her game finishing with 47 spikes, 15 kills and just seven errors for a .170 hitting efficiency.
Setter Mckenzie Creighton dished out 37 assists.
In the Coconino-hosted tournament played Sept. 8 in Flagstaff, the Lady Horns couldn’t get untracked early losing 21-13 and 21-13 decisions to Sedona.
“I guess we took a long time adjusting to the higher elevation,” Stonebrink said.
After beating Copper Canyon, 21-13 and 21-17, Payson lost the first set 21-14 to Coco.
In the second set, PHS dominated 21-10.
Next up, Payson beat Bradshaw Mountain, 21-15 and 21-12, and Page, 21-17 and 21-11, to finish 7-3 in pool play.
Clutching the No. 3 seed in the 12-team tournament, the Lady Horns advanced to the bracket portion of the invitational seeded against Coconino.
Payson easily won the first set 25-17, but lost the second 25-11.
In the third and deciding set, the Lady Horns committed a service error, hitting error and misplayed a pass, giving up four straight points to lose 11-10.
Payson, however, rebounded to beat Bradshaw Mountain, 25-22 and 25-11, and Page, 25-12 and 25-17, to remain alive in the tournament to take on Tuba City.
The reservation school is a longtime PHS nemesis, having frustrated the Lady Horns several times in the Payson Invitational.
This time around, the situation was no different as the Warriors eliminated Payson 25-4 and 25-18 to relegate PHS to a fifth-place finish.
Following the team’s return to Payson, Stonebrink lauded Shayna Neal and Megan Wessel for their serving expertise.
He also praised Sydney Samuels, Kaitlyn Wessel and Emma Randall for their hitting.
Middle hitter Taylor Randall led the team in blocking with two solo stuffs and five stuff assists. Creighton finished with 97 assists.