PRESCOTT VALLEY — The tears rolled down Taylor Randall’s cheeks.
Teammates consoled her on the Tim’s Toyota Center court moments after Flagstaff eliminated Payson from the Division III state volleyball tournament 3-0 Friday afternoon.
The senior outside hitter wasn’t the only Longhorn drying her eyes. It was an emotional day for the entire team, especially the eight seniors who realized their high school volleyball careers were over.
“Yes, that’s why I’m all emotional,” said senior Harley Turney. “When the coaches just started looking at us and we knew that we were done, I started crying. Then, it was game point and (Flagstaff players) started cheering.”
Senior libero Kaylee Byers shared in her teammates’ sorrow and tears.
“I knew it was coming,” she said of her crying. “Even if we won, it would have been emotional. It’s the last game of the season. It’s just a tough loss. It’s a tough way to go down, three games to zero. But, it’s alright. We gave it our all.”
Some couldn’t even make it into the arena without tears welling up in their eyes.
“I’ve been crying on the bus all day,” said senior Jade Holland. “It’s been bad. But it’s been good, too.”
Realizing her Payson career just ended was difficult for senior Selena Shill.
“It’s my last year ever playing,” Shill said. “It’s really upsetting. Just seeing other teammates cry kind of affects me. I actually saw Taylor crying. She’s a sad crier. Just her facial expressions are just sad.”
Randall said she just couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
“It kind of sunk in that we lost and it kind of stunk,” Randall said. “It’s your last time playing and I just lost it. I’ve played volleyball since fifth grade and I’ve played with those girls since seventh grade. I play club ball with some of them but some of the girls I don’t get to play club with. So it hurts a little bit.”
But Randall said losing to a quality team like the Eagles makes it a bit easier to deal with.
“We fought hard,” she said. “We played good against them. I hope they win state because they’re a good team.”
Well, Flagstaff, the No. 3 seed, did indeed win state. The defending Division II state champions who dropped down to Division III this season, followed the win over No. 14 Payson with 3-0 victories over No. 11 Florence on Friday night and No. 7 Tuba City in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles rallied from a 2-1 deficit to beat No. 5 Glendale Cactus 3-2 in the final on Saturday night. Cactus beat No. 12 Blue Ridge 3-0 in the first round, No. 4 Kayenta Monument Valley 3-2 in the quarterfinals and No. 1 Snowflake 3-0 in the semifinals.
Senior setter Mckenzie Creighton wasn’t as emotional as many of her teammates.
“We played hard, so I’m proud of my girls,” Creighton said. “I still have another season with some of these girls through club. But I felt good about it because we fought so hard just to get here and to play Flagstaff as hard as we did, the emotions were on the low.”
Senior middle hitter Emmee Ashby was proud of the way her team played against the Eagles.
“It’s bittersweet for me personally just because we had a great season, a great run,” Ashby said. “I think we gave Flagstaff a run for their money. I mean, it’s sad to see it end because this is the last time I had to be a Longhorn. But I also have four more years (in college volleyball). So I’m very fortunate.
“I know it was a little emotional for some of the other girls. You know, we’ve played together for so long. I think it’s been about seven years that we’ve all been together. So, that’s hard to let go. But we sure gave them one hell of a fight. Flagstaff is super good. We went toe-to-toe with them those first two games, for sure. I could say I wish we would have beaten Flagstaff and kept going and win state. But it just didn’t add up for us this season. But we’ve come leaps and bounds from where we were at the beginning of the season. I’m proud of this team.”
Flagstaff won 25-21, 25-22, 25-14.
Payson coach Arnold Stonebrink said his players made the Eagles earn the victory.
“I’m very proud of how the girls played,” the coach said. “They played their hearts out, and came pretty close to winning two of the three sets they played against the eventual state champs. They battled the Eagles toe-to-toe and gave them all they could handle the first two sets.”
Stonebrink said he’s glad that, if his team couldn’t win it all, that it was Flagstaff that did.
“Flagstaff went on to win state, which gave me some solace; now we can say we at least lost to the state champion,” he said. “And I like the Eagles’ program; I really like their coach, Beth Haglin, and their girls and fans have always been classy.”
Payson jumped out to an early two-point lead in the first set, but Flagstaff rallied to take a six-point lead before the Longhorns pulled to within two points. But the Eagles hung on to win by four.
The second set was a back-and-forth battle. PHS again took a modest early lead, but the set was tied 15-15 and neither team could take control. But, with the score 22-22, Flagstaff got the side out, then scored two straight service winners to take the set.
Outside hitter Randi Powers came up big for the Eagles in the third set, powering them to the 11-point win.
“We still had the fight, but Flagstaff brought up their energy level and aggressiveness,” Stonebrink said. “Randi Powers, who had had an excellent match up to that point, moved into a different dimension. She mixed several power hits with a number of deceptive and strategically-placed tips, and we just couldn’t get a bead on her.”
The coach said a trio of Longhorns came through at the net.
“We got great hitting production from outside hitter Jade Holland (.286) and middle hitters Emmee Ashby (.273) and Cori Barnett (.222),” Stonebrink said.
Turney led the team in serve receiving efficiency, and Byers and Randall shared team honors in digs, with six each. Creighton added five.
Kelsee Stonebrink led the team in serve efficiency, Ashby led in aces (two) and Creighton led in service winners (five).