Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink is calling last week’s five-day stretch, in which the team played three regular season matches and five more in the Snowflake Invitational, the most grueling of his tenure.
He also is hoping for some type of Arizona Interscholastic Association realignment next year that would prevent similar schedule glitches from occurring in future years.
The coach contends that such demanding multi-day series are not in the best interests of the student-athletes because they result in more time out of the classroom and fewer hours to study and do homework.
Those types of lengthy stretches did not occur in the conference/region school configuration that was replaced two years ago by a division/section alignment.
Some coaches are lobbying the AIA to return to a format similar to the one that previously existed.
The Lady Longhorns’ taxing streak began Sept. 18 in Heber with a 3-0 win over Mogollon that kept Payson’s regular season record unblemished.
On Sept. 19, the Lady Horns slipped past homestanding Snowflake, 3-2.
As if trips to Heber and Snowflake weren’t enough traveling time, Payson journeyed to Scottsdale Sept. 20 where the team defeated Coronado 3-0.
After a short night’s rest, the team was on the road again Sept. 21 traveling to Snowflake for the two-day Lobo Invitational.
With the travel finally at an end, the players might consider adopting country crooner Willie Nelson’s hit “On the Road Again” as their team anthem especially identifying with the lyrics, “Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway.”
Visiting Lobo land
In the Snowflake-hosted tournament, the Lady Horns played their way to an impressive third-place finish among the 12 teams participating.
Northern Arizona reservation school and volleyball powerhouse Monument Valley took first, which is commonplace for the Mustangs. Safford, currently ranked No. 1 in the state in power points, was second.
As good as the Bulldogs have been this season, the Lady Horns were able to whip the team in bracket play.
After dropping the first set of the match 25-21, Payson roared back to win 25-23 and 25-13.
The tournament format featured best two-out-of-three sets on both days.
Stonebrink is calling the win over the Dogs, “Our most impressive match of the season, we knocked off the No. 1 team in the state.
“We were pretty darn excited.”
Match ending stats revealed Safford served and serve-received better than Payson, but the Lady Horns excelled at hitting, averaging .321, a mark the coach calls “tremendous.”
Sydney Samuels, Kaitlyn Wessel, Emma Randall and Shayna Neal paced the hitters.
With the stirring win over the Dogs, the Lady Horns were assured of at least a third-place tournament finish, but still had to play Monument Valley, the other undefeated team in the tournament.
As it turns out, the Mustangs were everything they were touted to be.
“They played highly disciplined, error-free ball, with tough floating serves and scrappy defense,” Stonebrink said. “A win against them would require error-free ball.”
But alas, such an effort was not to be as Payson fell 27-25 and 25-24.
In the first set loss, the Lady Horns had double set point at 24-22, but couldn’t finish with a win.
With the defeat Payson was catapulted into a rematch with Safford.
The winner would advance to the finals to play a Mustang team still undefeated.
This time around vs. Safford, the fatigue of five consecutive days of play on the road took its toll on PHS individual players leading to 25-17 and 25-19 losses.
Following the team’s return to Payson, the coach lauded Megan Wessel and Neal for their serving throughout the tournament.
Megan had 14 aces ad 40 winners and Neal finished with 11 aces and 38 winners.
Neal also had 34 kills, which was second only to Emma Randall who led the team with 44.
Sydney Samuels, Taylor Randall and right side hitter Kaitlyn Wessel paced the PHS in hitting.
In blocking, Sydney Samuels recorded two stuffs and three stuff assists. Kaitlyn Wessel finished with five stuff assists.
Setter Mckenzie Creighton dished out 146 assists.
Following the demanding road trips, Stonebrink expressed a sigh of relief, “Probably the nicest feeling right now is we made it through this grueling two-week period.
“Of course the level of competition picks up even more, starting with Blue Ridge (today, Sept. 25 in Lakeside), but at least we have no more back-to-back-to-backs.”
After playing Blue Ridge, the PHS players have several days rest before traveling Oct. 1 to Flagstaff.