Great seasons are marked by key victories.
It remains to be seen if this will go down as a great season in Payson High volleyball history.
But if it plays out that way, Thursday’s match with visiting Blue Ridge will be one of the reasons why.
The Yellow Jackets, who entered the contest as the No. 6 team in the Division III power rankings, won the first set by two points.
But the Longhorns, who were looking to rebound from a five-set loss at Fountain Hills three days earlier, bounced back to take control from there to score their biggest victories of the season. PHS won 23-25, 25-17, 25-16, 25-15.
“Blue Ridge is always really tough, from the top to the bottom of their program,” said Payson coach Arnold Stonebrink. “But, not only did we beat them, we handled them fairly easily. I don’t know if the margin going up by one each set is serendipity or what, but I liked what I saw.
“I felt we played our best volleyball of the year. Everyone was on — hitters, passers, servers, setter. Conversely, Blue Ridge was uncharacteristically flat, and had a rough time keeping it together.”
Payson improved to 6-3. The Longhorns were No. 15 in the Division III power rankings on Monday morning. Blue Ridge fell to No. 8.
Despite the big win, Payson remained No. 15 in the Division III power rankings. Stonebrink said it’s “weird” that the Longhorns didn’t move up after recording an important victory like this.
Victory was in doubt after Blue Ridge jumped out of the gate to go ahead 6-1 and 18-13 in the first set before the home team tied it 23-23 behind a 10-5 run. But the Yellow Jackets scored the final two points to prevail.
“The remaining sets were devoid of much drama, but were full of excitement, as we jumped to early and comfortable leads each time, and coasted,” Stonebrink said.
“The girls were absolutely hot hitting,” the coach said. “Jade Holland was smoking, with a team-high .417 efficiency and 11 kills (24-11-1). Taylor Randall added .364 hitting and 12 kills (22-12-4), Emmee Ashby had a .308 efficiency on a team-high 20-hit binge (39-20-8), and Cori Barnett hit .267 with six kills (15-6-2). Sara Novack hit .200. It’s the first time I ever recall Payson having five starting hitters all hit at least .200. As a team, we hit a phenomenal .319. That is a fantastic efficiency playing against a weak team. To do it against a quality opponent like Blue Ridge is mind-blowing.”
Running the offense, Mckenzie Creighton amassed 39 assists.
The serving was also impressive, according to Stonebrink.
“Our serving was nearly impressive as our hitting,” he said. “The girls ended up raining 18 aces down on the Yellow Jackets.”
Randall and Holland each amassed five aces, and Barnett and Kelsee Stonebrink each added three aces. Holland led in service winners, with 14.
“Our serve-receive leader was Shealea Garza, who was solid and consistent,” the coach said.
Kaylee Byers led the team with 14 digs.
The JV team won 25-13, 25-12 to improve to 8-1. The freshman team won 25-15, 25-14 and is 6-1.
Payson faces another stiff test at 6:30 p.m. tonight at home against No. 4 Flagstaff before traveling to play in the Marana Mountain View Tournament on Friday and Saturday.