The Longhorns were hoping to add another marquee name to their list of victims Tuesday night.
However, Flagstaff stole the spotlight in a 25-18, 25-21, 25-23 volleyball victory in Payson High’s Wilson Dome.
Coming off a key win over a strong Blue Ridge squad five days earlier, the Horns would have loved to knock off an even bigger opponent in an Eagles team that won the Division II state championship last season. Flagstaff moved down to Division III this season.
Flagstaff is No. 3 in the Division III power rankings behind Safford and Snowflake. Payson is No. 15. Blue Ridge is No. 7.
The Eagles won in straight sets despite being shorthanded because the Longhorns couldn’t handle their strong hitters.
“They had a couple middle hitters out this match for various reasons,” said Payson coach Arnold Stonebrink. “But their strength, their outside hitters, were solid and dominating. Flagstaff did everything well. But 6-foot senior Randi Powers and 5-6 sophomore Courtney Leffel pounded dozens of kills. And that, in a nutshell, was the difference in the match.”
Payson High’s middle hitters, Emmee Ashby and Cori Barnett, also hit well.
“We had our own pair that also pounded the ball with authority,” Stonebrink said. “It is the best middle tandem I’ve ever had. They continued their consistently dominating season.”
Ashby and Barnett had nine kills each. Barnett hit .429 and Ashby .353.
Stonebrink said the Eagles were a good test for his team.
“I would say they are among the top three we’ve played, along with Seton Catholic and Prescott.
“We played well against Seton and lost 27-24. We played Prescott twice in the Coconino Tournament and they beat us handily both times.
It was the second meeting of the season between the teams. They split two sets in the Coconino Tournament, with the Eagles winning 21-18 and the Longhorns prevailing 12-11. Flagstaff went on to win that tournament.
Flagstaff jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the first set. But the Horns closed to within four points late before the Eagles won by seven.
The visitors also led most of the second set, although PHS hung with them and was within 22-21 before Flagstaff closed it out.
The home team turned in its best showing in the third set, building a 14-8 lead. But the Eagles tied it 22-2 behind Powers’ and Leffel’s hitting. PHS went back up 23-22, but Flagstaff scored the final three points to end it.
In addition to the strong play at the net by Ashby and Barnett, the Longhorns also had a solid effort by setter Mckenzie Creighton, who hit .300 with four kills from tips and pushes, and Jade Holland hit .154 with four kills.
Additionally, Kelsee Stonebrink “had a good game serve-receiving, and Kaylee Byers racked up 11 digs,” according to the coach.
Creighton dished out 21 assists and Sara Novack added two. Ashby, Barnett and Novack each had two block assists.
The Longhorns are scheduled to participate in the Marana Mountain View Tournament today and Saturday before traveling to Flagstaff for a “huge match” against Coconino on Monday.
After entertaining Show Low on Tuesday, the Longhorns are at Snowflake on Oct. 18 for the first of two meetings in five days with the Lobos, who beat Flagstaff 3-2 last week.