A Division III state tournament berth was on the line as Payson entered the final three games of the regular season. Coach Arnold Stonebrink said the Longhorns needed to win all three.
And they put themselves in position to accomplish that heading into the regular-season finale at home against Chino Valley on Wednesday, Oct. 30 by winning road games against Phoenix Cortez on Oct. 24 and Phoenix Moon Valley on Oct. 29.
After beating Cortez 3-0, the Horns disposed of Moon Valley 23-25, 25-14, 25-17, 25-16.
The victories pushed Payson’s record to 10-6 and left the team in a good position. PHS stood at No. 14 in the power rankings that seed the 16-team state tournament, which will be held Nov. 8-9 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott. With the top two teams in each of the five sections guaranteed a tournament berth, the Longhorns need to finish no lower than 14. They’ve teetered on that same brink for four matches now, with two wins and two losses to Snowflake.
But the Horns couldn’t head into the final game expecting to hang onto the position. Their coach was going to make sure they realized they needed to win to be assured of a state tournament berth.
“It’s a big game (Wednesday),” Stonebrink said heading into the final game. “A win will not only secure a state berth, it could also enable us to leapfrog Holbrook and/or Blue Ridge into the No. 13 or 12 spot. It ought to be fun. The girls seem to be peaking at the right time.”
They started slowly against Moon Valley, losing the first set before closing out the match with three consecutive wins.
“We were out of sorts and being our own worst enemy by making a few too many errors, especially hitting errors,” the coach said. “The teams took turns taking the lead. A few times we seemed poised to take control, but could never convert after going ahead by two points. The Rockets went on a run to reach set point at 24-19. We scored four straight points to put us on the verge of overtime, but couldn’t seal the deal, and lost.
“The second set we roared out of the gate and finally played Payson volleyball. Emmee Ashby, Mckenzie Creighton and Taylor Randall ripped the Rocket defense with multiple kills off spikes and tips, and Emmee, Kaylee Byers, Shealea Garza and Jade Holland ripped the Moon Valley serve receiver with multiple service winners.
“The third set began very ominously. Tiffany Meier abused us with a tough serve, and we found ourselves behind 0-5. We made a serve receive coverage change, Harley Turney passed the ball squarely into Mckenzie’s hands, Mckenzie set it into a powerful swing by Emmee, and Emmee’s resounding kill put us on our way. We soon tied the set at 8-8, and dominated from there.
“The last set was mostly a formality; again, the girls roared out on fire, and we won going away. Our serving was tremendous, showering 18 aces on the Rockets. Emmee led the way with a tremendous nine aces in 19 attempts. Kaylee, Shealea and Jade added three aces apiece. “Our passing was also solid, with Jade serve receiving perfectly. Also serve receiving well were Klara Sorensen, Shealea and Sara Novack.
“Kaylee dug out 14 Rocket hits, followed by Taylor Randall’s 11 digs.
“Emmee Ashby had a tremendous night hitting — in 29 attempts, she had 17 kills and 4 errors, for a fantastic .448 hitting efficiency. Mckenzie went 15-6-1 for a .333 efficiency, and Taylor added nine kills. Mckenzie dished out 33 assists. Taylor had a solo block and block assists, and Emmee had two block assists.”
The junior varsity and freshman teams also beat Moon Valley 2-0. The JV improved to 12-4, while the freshman squad finished 10-4.
Longhorns win at Cortez
PHS beat Cortez 25-17, 25-12, 25-16 in what Stonebrink termed a “workmanlike” effort.
“The closest the match got was in the first set,” the coach said. “We started out slowly and Cortez held a 10-9 lead. But we outscored them 16-7 to take the set, and rolled with no problems from there. Our top servers in efficiency were Mckenzie and Emmee. Sara led in service winners with 12, followed by Mckenzie’s eight.
“Kaylee was all over the court, digging up 11 balls. Shealea and Harley followed with eight digs apiece. The team as a whole had a stellar performance serve receiving, led by Shealea and Kaylee. The effort set up the offense.
“Cori Barnett, Emmee and Tessa Hintze led a middle hitter-heavy offense. Cori and Emmee each amassed a team-high eight kills (.286 and .278 respectively), and Tessa added five kills (on a team high .500 hitting efficiency). Jade also had eight kills. Taylor his .200. Mckenzie dished out a generous 33 assists.”