Payson’s volleyball team had won both of its matches since a 3-1 home court loss to Fountain Hills on Sept. 19.
And the Longhorns were looking to build on the momentum from a 3-0 win over Mogollon and Saturday’s 3-1 victory at Show Low when they traveled to the Valley on Tuesday looking to avenge that loss to the Falcons.
And the Longhorns were in prime position to do just that.
But they couldn’t finish the job.
The visitors rallied from a first-set loss to take the next two sets. But they couldn’t put the Falcons away. Fountain Hills wound up winning 25-17, 21-25, 17-25, 25-18, 15-13.
Payson was up 13-9 in the fifth set, but watched the home team go on a six-point run to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The loss dropped the Longhorns to 5-3.
“It was a tough loss,” said head coach Arnold Stonebrink. “The fact that we played well and made some adjustments that enabled us to nearly win takes the sting out of the loss somewhat.
“But being that close, and forcing the other team to have to mount a comeback, and not being able to close it out, is tough. We couldn’t pull it out in set 4, nor could we put it away in set 5 after holding a 13-9 lead.”
The Falcons forced a fifth set behind Jalin Yoder’s strong hitting in the fourth set.
But PHS used tough serving and also took advantage of FH service errors to take control in the deciding set. But, with her team trailing 13-9, Haley Braun went to the service line after a side out determined to make up for an earlier service error.
She served five straight winners, including a pair of aces, to power the Falcons to the come-from-behind victory.
It was a back-and-forth match from the start. The teams were tied 15-15 in the first set before Yoder’s dominant hitting from the outside and the Falcons’ good serving led to a 10-2 run that earned them the win.
Klara Sorensen entered the match in the second set as PHS tried to find an answer for FH’s tough serving. Her performance, along with middle Emmee Ashby’s hitting, led to the Longhorns evening the match 1-1.
“We made some adjustments on our serve-receive to counter the tough serves of Yoder, Morgan DiFelice and Braun, including the insertion of Klara Sorensen,” Stonebrink said. “Sorensen made a big impression, and the complexion of the match completely changed. It took awhile though. We fell behind 6-1, but came back strong, riding the offense of Emmee.”
The PHS passing was good enough to counter the Falcons’ rough serving in the third set. And Ashby and the Longhorns’ other middle, Cori Barnett, provided strong offense with the help of some well-placed line hits by Jade Holland, as the visitors rolled to a 2-1 lead.
Ashby carried the offense on her shoulders, according to the coach. She hit a “crushing” .419 with 14 kills (31-14-1). She also led the team in blocks with one solo and one assist.
Mckenzie Creighton had a .267 efficiency from the setter’s position (15-6-2), dishing out 35 assists, and Barnett hit .154 (26-8-4).
“Our passers did a good job of adjusting to battle the tough Falcon serving,” Stonebrink said.
Sorensen, Harley Turney and Creighton were the top serve-receivers. Holland and Barnett, who nailed four and three aces, respectively, were the top servers in efficiency and aces. Creighton led PHS in service winners with 10.
Stonebrink said several challenging matches remain on the schedule.
“Our goal is to go to state,” he said. “And in the games vs. teams we are very close with talent-wise, we are about even. We have a tough stretch coming up.”
Among the remaining opponents on the schedule are two matches with Snowflake (Oct. 18 at Snowflake and Oct. 22 at Payson), which is No. 3 in the state power rankings, and one match each against No. 2 Flagstaff (Oct. 8 at Payson), No. 6 Blue Ridge (Oct. 3 at Payson) and No. 14 (Flagstaff) Coconino (Oct. 14 at Coconino).”
The junior varsity improved to 7-1 with a 26-24, 25-22 win against Fountain Hills, which doesn’t have a freshman team.
Longhorns win 3-1 at Show Low
Three days earlier at Show Low, Payson won 17-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-21.
“We were able to pull out a 3-1 win over a scrappy Show Low team,” Stonebrink said. “They’ve been up and down this year. They handled us easily in our tournament. But a week later in the Coconino tourney we handled them easily.
“As of late, they had been a bit down. They were up today and gave us a good battle. Fortunately we were able to make some good adjustments that turned the tide in our favor.”
Although middle hitters Ashby and Barnett were on target, hitting errors hurt the Horns in the first-set loss.
“Seven of those eight points in the margin came gift-wrapped via hitting errors,” Stonebrink said. “Our two outside hitters and right side hitter all struggled with their hitting, whereas our middle hitters started out on fire and stayed on fire.”
PHS made adjustments on the outside hit in the second set. “We hit the ball more intelligently, with some off-speed tips falling for kills, and some great sets being slammed for kills,” Stonebrink said. “We had a fair amount more success hitting the ball out there, enough to turn the tide.”
SL rallied from a 10-4 deficit in the second set to take a 22-21 lead. The home team led 23-22, but the visitors bounced back to win after a side out and Barnett’s two-point serving run.
“Winning that set was huge,” Stonebrink said. “Had we lost, we would have been starting out of the a precarious 0-2 hole.
“Taylor Randall began to emerge at outside hitter in the third set, which opened up the middle a little more and prevented the Cougar defense from keying on Ashby and Barnett,” the coach said.
“Our passers, particularly Kaylee Byers, Shealea Byers and Kelsee Stonebrink, did a splendid job of serve-receiving/passing. And thanks to the tremendous setting of Mckenzie, we were able to run our offense precisely, and the result was a blowout in the third set.”
But Show Low used solid passing, serve-receiving and digging to force PHS into its least productive serve efficiency set of the season in the fourth set. SL led 4-0 when Stonebrink called a timeout.
“One of their servers hit a hot spot,” he said. “I called a quick timeout, mostly to ice the server. We responded by scoring the next four points, three of them on service winners by Kelsee Stonebrink, and smart and consistent hitting on the outside, combined with fantastic hitting on the inside by Ashby and Barnett, which gave us a nice lead.”
The Cougars fought back to within 18-17, but the Horns scored seven of the final 11 points to win by four.
“Show Low had no answers for our middles, who especially laid waste to one-man blocks,” Stonebrink said. “Emmee Ashby led the team with .432 hitting (37-20-4), and her 20 kills were a team high. Cori Barnett was second at .409 (22-12-3), and her 12 kills were second on the team. Mckenzie Creighton expertly quarterbacked the offense to the tune of 39 assists.”
The coach said the PHS passing was working against the Cougars.
“Our passing was very on this match, allowing us the luxury of setting the middles often,” Stonebrink said. “Kaylee Byers, followed by Kelsee Stonebrink, were our top serve-receivers. And Byers had a superb game, racking up 26 digs, followed by Creighton’s 16.”
Byers also led the team in service efficiency, and aces (2). Kelsee Stonebrink led the team in service winners (11).
“Ashby was a wall defensively; her two blocks and two block assists slowed down the Cougar hitting attack,” the coach said.
The JV and freshman teams also won, by 2-0 counts. The freshman team is 5-1.