The Rim Country’s off-season volleyball scene continues to heat up with the Club Payson 17-years team playing its way to a first place finish in an Arizona regional tournament and another local club team taking second in a nine-team Go-Girl tournament held in Show Low.
Payson High volleyball coach Arnold Stonebrink explains the Go-Girls’ competition as an alternative for girls who want to continue to play the sport once the season ends, but don’t want to incur the costs of playing on some club teams or travel to the Valley for tournaments as Club Payson does and the now defunct Club Rim formerly did.
He says the Go-Girl tournaments are reminiscent of high school summer play, with each program entering A and B teams representing varsity and junior varsity squads.
The Payson A squad of 10 girls that competed Jan. 19 in Show Low contained four freshmen and two others who had never played high school volleyball.
The inexperience of the players, Stonebrink said, “Made our second place finish all the more terrific.”
For the opening round of the tournament, all nine teams engaged in a round robin in which Payson went 5-3, losing to Shelby, the Ladies and Show Low Seniors.
“Our record was good enough to secure a No. 3 seed and match us against the No. 6 seed in the single elimination bracket,” said Stonebrink. “Unfortunately the No. 6 seed was Show Low Seniors.”
Although Payson had lost to the Show Low crew in round robin, the team came back to win 3-2, coming out on top in the first set 21-9 and the third 15-8. The two wins sandwiched a 21-6 loss in the second set.
With the win, Payson advanced to a second round game against the Ladies, another team the locals lost to in the round robin.
In the rematch, Payson won the first set 21-18, lost the second, 21-14 and captured the third 16-14 thanks to a late Megan Wessel kill that gave Payson a 15-14 lead. On game point, Wessel uncorked a strong serve that yielded a free ball, which Shayna Neal killed for the game-winning point.
The victory propelled Payson into the championship finale against Shelby, a small charter school in Tonto Village.
In pool play, Payson had lost to Shelby 15-11.
“Shelby was a very strong team,” said Stonebrink. “Their two best were middle hitters Jessica Johnson and Brittany Titus.”
In the gold medal finale, the two Shelby standouts led the team to a 21-17 win in the first set and 21-11 in the second.
Following the match, Stonebrink praised the entire lineup up saying they rose up and played strong even though the team had a number of young and inexperienced players.
“We did, however, benefit from the experience and leadership of seniors Megan Wessel, Kaitlyn Wessel and Shayna Neal,” Stonebrink said. “They are an absolute joy to coach.”
Kelsee Stonebrink, the coach’s daughter, drew praise for her setting and serving while freshman Lizbeth Ochoa was cited for hustle, composure and assertiveness.
Junior Chloee Connolly played middle hitter well, Stonebrink said, as did 5-foot-9-inch Anaiah Blair at the same position.
Lacey Standifird, Klara Sorenson and Brie Chovanec also drew plaudits from the coach.
The Payson team returns to Go-Girl action Feb. 23 in the White Mountains.