Veteran Lady Longhorn volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink — the longest-tenured coach on the Payson High School staff — might have this season the most talented team in his 10 years at the helm of the program.
But he knows ability and aptitude doesn’t always translate into wins.
“The key is attitude,” he stresses.
In an attempt to focus on a team-first mindset, the coach addressed his players in preseason practices sternly reminding them good attitudes will spell the difference between wins and losses, successes and failures.
Stonebrink is keenly aware there are those parents and some players who nitpick his decisions, preferring to second-guess his efforts rather than support them.
But he’s also has been around long enough to understand parent interference is a fact of coaching life at Payson High.
That’s one of the reasons Payson High has one of the highest coaching turnover rates in the state.
But two years ago Don Heizer — a man with decades of football and wrestling coaching experience and moxie — took over as athletic director.
Heizer’s years in the profession have current coaches — like Stonebrink — believing he’ll back them when the need arises.
But enough on dissension — let’s take a close look at the 2013 volleyball team.
Stonebrink’s confidence in the team springs from watching them in summer league play.
“We have a heck of a team, one of the best talent-wise I have ever had,” he said. “A few weeks ago we won the 27-team Payson Summer Tournament, marking the first time in 10 years any of my teams have won a summer tournament.”
The team triumphed without the services of middle hitter Rachael Larned who began the 2012 season on JV but blossomed into varsity star as the season wore on.
In the state tournament, she was the Lady Longhorns’ most valuable player.
During the first few days of this fall’s practice, Stonebrink focused on improving passing skills saying, “you hit for show and pass for dough.”
He contends it doesn’t matter how good the hitters are, teams that can’t pass well will struggle.
Since this year’s team seems to have stellar hitting and setting, passing becomes even more important.
But here’s where a big “if’ jumps out like a boogeyman.
The Lady Horns’ best passers from the past two seasons, twins Kaitlyn and Megan Wessel, graduated last spring and Stonebrink must find replacements for them.
“We have huge shoes to fill,” the coach said. (The Wessels) were two of the best passers I’ve ever had.”
If Stonebrink can find good passers, he believes the team will thrive. If not, the team could fall out of contention.
Currently, Kaylee Byers, Shealea Garza and Harley Turney have emerged as the leading contenders to fill the hole created by the graduation of the Wessels.
Stonebrink believes Byers, a second-year varsity player, is “the strongest candidate to step into the libero role.
“She is very positive and joyous to be around on the court.”
Garza, a first-year varsity player, “has shown great improvement,” Stonebrink said. “She should be a rock on the back row.”
Turney is also a first-year varsity regular but did see some playing time the past two seasons.
Stonebrink predicts she will be a starter mostly due to her hard work and good attitude.
Following a recent practice, Stonebrink took time out to talk about his other varsity candidates.
• Emmee Ashby: “A 6-foot senior middle hitter, is back after a year at Queen Creek, coming off a club state championship with Eclipse. She was my No. 1 hitter statistically as a sophomore. She is a hard, relentless worker who is positive — a number of the younger players on JV and freshmen have commented about how they like to play with her because she is so positive — and improved hugely since she was a freshman. She is driven to play college ball. She will be huge for us.
• Mckenzie Creighton: “She is our 5-foot-6-inch senior setter, and on varsity now two seasons. She has great hands and runs the offense well. She’s very hard to read, and moves the ball around well. She also uses well-timed and disguised tips and pushes to score.”
• Taylor Randall: “Is a 5-foot-11-inch senior outside hitter, who made the transition from middle hitter last club season. She is in her second season on varsity. It is a much better position for her, and she is proving she can flat-out hit the ball. I can see her hitting above the magical .200 clip, especially if she can hit around a solid two-man block the good teams will post against her.”
• Jade Holland: “Is a 5-foot-6-inch senior outside and right side hitter, in her second season on varsity. She is one of the most versatile and smartest players I’ve ever had. Her vision of seeing and hitting around the block is uncanny, the best player I’ve ever had at that. The last two seasons she subbed in at middle at our invitational tournament, and was our No. 1 hitter both tournaments. She boasts a tough top-spin jump-serve as
well. Adroit at outside and right side, her starting spot will depend on how the other matchups pan out.”
• Selena Shil: “She’s a 5-foot-10-inch senior outside hitter, who is in her first year on varsity. She is a bit rough on the edges, but can hit hard. She can be a valuable contributor if she can hone her form.”
• Cori Barnett: “Is a 5-foot-9-inch junior middle hitter in her first year on varsity. She is also a very versatile player, being able to play outside and right side as well. Heck, she even used to be a setter a couple of years ago. She came on strong this summer making the switch to middle, and in spite of her lack of experience there, she can make big noise there this fall.”
• Sara Novack: “She’s a 5-foot-9-inch sophomore right side hitter playing her first year of varsity. She is making the switch from middle, where she played pretty much her whole life. Sara has a great attitude, and didn’t bat an eye when I informed her of her new position. Attitude-wise she is a coach’s dream. Her height and reach will make her a strong blocker on the right side, and she has enough ability and smarts to taking on the setting chores when our setter has to pass the first ball.”
In assessing the team as a whole, rather than as individuals, Stonebrink repeats his contention that it is the most talented in years, but unless they unite in one purpose, they could go one and out at state.
“The choice is theirs,” he says.