Payson’s volleyball team hoped for a state playoff berth.
Now they’re hoping to pull off an upset or two.
Ranked No. 14 at the close of the season, the Longhorns will face No. 3 Flagstaff in the opening round of the Division III tournament at 2 p.m. Friday at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott.
Although they’re certainly hoping to advance to the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Friday to take on the winner of the noon match between No. 6 Chandler Seton Catholic and No. 11 Florence, the players are celebrating having reached the tournament.
“That’s what we kept looking for because we didn’t want this to be our last game forever,” said senior setter Mckenzie Creighton of a state tournament berth after the Longhorns closed the regular season with a 3-0 win over visiting Chino Valley on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
“But, even though it was the last game on our court, all these wins have just been leading up to this. We’ve got to go to state and stay together as a family, not necessarily win state, but to just play with each other one last time.”
Creighton, one of eight Longhorn seniors, said, while she and her teammates realize they will be huge underdogs, she’s confident they can play with anyone when they play up to their potential.
“We can go in one team or we can go in another,” she said. “I just hope that we go in how we have been lately, as a family. If we do that, then the sky’s the limit.”
PHS finished the regular season 27-12-8 overall.
Another senior, outside hitter Taylor Randall, was also happy after the Chino Valley win to realize her varsity volleyball career wasn’t ending with the regular season. “I’m glad we were able to play this well and win and go to state,” she said. “I’m excited. It feels pretty awesome knowing that we can go and hopefully play good and do good there.”
Randall said she and her teammates were confident they would qualify following back-to-back 3-0 losses to Snowflake, which enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed, with games against Phoenix Cortez, Phoenix Moon Valley and Chino Valley remaining.
“We knew that we were playing pretty easy teams, so we felt pretty good that we were going to go,” she said.
Now, she said the Longhorns need to rise to the occasion and play their best volleyball of the year Friday and hopefully Saturday, when the semifinals and final will be played.
“We’ve just got to play together and play as a family and really pull together and get excited,” she said.
PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink said the match against Chino Valley was closer than the 3-0 score might indicate. The Longhorns won in three, but the score was 26-24, 25-23, 25-12.
“The score was misleading,” he said. “It was harder than it appeared. Two of the three sets were won by only two points; one of those went into overtime. It mirrored the Moon Valley game a fair amount.”
Against the Rockets, PHS lost the first set 25-23 before finishing with 25-14, 25-17, 25-16 wins.
“We started slowly before winning the last three sets easily,” Stonebrink said. “Except this time we stayed slow for two sets, before winning big the third set.”
Chino Valley actually led 24-21 late in the first set before the Horns rallied to score five consecutive points to win.
The visitors were within 24-23 in the second set before the home team ended it.
The coach said his players simply didn’t play well early on in the finale.
“The first two sets we were our own worst enemy,” he said. “Chino Valley showed nice improvement from when we played them last month in the Coconino tournament, but it seemed most of the Cougar points the first two sets came via our errors — passing, serving and hitting.
“The Cougars weren’t getting too many kills, but we were obliging them with our mistakes.
“Longhorn volleyball finally came out the third set when we tightened up our game, and clobbered the Cougars. We finally got untracked to win easily in the last set. The hitters completely dominated.
“And of course, the most important thing is we secured the state spot.”
For the match, Payson hit a “fantastic” .257, according to the coach. Cori Barnett hit a blistering .700, with no errors and seven kills on 10 hits. Selena Shill hit a “superb” .417 (12-6-1), Creighton hit and tipped her way to .412 (17-8-1), Tessa Hintze hit .300 (10-4-1), and Jade Holland hit .190 (21-8-4). Creighton garnered 30 assists.
“Our passing was out of this world,” Stonebrink exclaimed. “Our serve-receive was spot on, led by Jade, Shealea Garza, Kaylee Byers and Harley Turney. It really enabled our offense to get rolling.”
Byers dug 13 balls and Creighton added eight digs.
Emmee Ashby and Garza shared the team high with six service-winners and Ashby also had a team-leading three aces. Sara Novack led the Horns in serving efficiency.