High school teams face pretty much the same schools year-in and year-out.
There are exceptions, of course, but the opponents are generally the same from year to year.
So the Marana Mountain View Invitational was a strange new experience for Payson High’s varsity volleyball team last weekend. None of the Longhorns’ opponents in the 23-team field were familiar.
“Of the seven teams we played in the tourney, Payson had never played any of them before in my 10 years here,” said coach Arnold Stonebrink. “In fact, none of them had we even played in a summer tournament. They were mostly Division II schools from the south and it was good to play against such competition.”
A steady diet of larger schools was a challenge for the Division III Longhorns. But they were competitive and wound up winning the consolation championship.
“The girls played well,” Stonebrink said. “We almost made it to the championship bracket. Relegated to the consolation bracket, the girls dominated and won.”
PHS went 2-2 in pool play. The Horns opened the tournament by falling to Div. II Tucson Sahuaro, which entered with an 8-3 record, 26-27, 23-25.
“We were in a tough pool against a tough team,” Stonebrink said. “We started off slow, as their hitters dominated, and we were unable to get on track enough to run our offense. We fell behind by 10 points, but then began to pass well and run our offense. We mounted a huge comeback, and finally caught them at 24. We held game point at 25-24, and again at 26-26, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback, and we lost.
“The second set saw the bottom fall out. Sahuaro’s tough hitters made it difficult to defend with our block and digging.”
They then faced unbeaten Gilbert Campo Verde, which is No. 2 in the Div. II power rankings and wound up finishing second in the tournament to Tucson. Campo Verde won 25-19, 25-12.
“Their all-around versatility and strength were hard to match, and we fell behind 11-24,” the coach said. “But a side out and a seven-point Mckenzie Creighton serving run turned the set from a blowout to drama, as we closed to within 19-24. But Campo scored the last point to win, and they handled us easily in set two.”
They rebounded to beat Div. III Tucson Amphitheater 25-8, 25-15 and Div. II Tucson Flowing Wells 25-13, 25-19 to finish third in the five-team pool. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, they didn’t win the tiebreakers against the third-place finishers from the other pools and wound up going into the consolation bracket as the No. 2 seed.
The Longhorns were 4-0 in bracket play, beating Nogales 25-17, 25-19 for the consolation crown.
They opened bracket action by beating Nogales, No. 7 in the Div . III power rankings, 27-26, 25-18.
“After Kelsee Stonebrink’s serving forged a 6-1 lead, we probably got overconfident, and Nogales crept back into it,” the coach said. “They slowly fought back to tie it, and later took a 20-15 lead. We woke up in time to force overtime, and with the score set point for both teams at 26-26, Shealea Garza served an ace to win it. The second set was much easier.”
PHS then rolled past Div. II Sierra Vista Buena 25-12, 25-18 before beating Div. III Tucson Pueblo 25-15, 25-22.
That sent the Longhorns to the championship match to face a Nogales team that emerged from the losers bracket again. Payson controlled the match again.
“We were able to play well and handle Nogales with little problem,” Stonebrink said.
The Longhorns hit well all tournament.
“Thanks to Mckenzie Creighton’s solid work at setter, and hitting .422 from the setter’s spot, the team hit a spectacular .243,” he said. “Selena Shill was on the whole tournament, hitting .350. Emmee Ashby’s 40 kills led the team, and she hit .318. Jade Holland pitched in a .208, Tessa Hintze also hit .208, and Sara Novack hit .190.”
Emmee Ashby led the team in serving efficiency, and Kelsee Stonebrink was tops in aces (17), and service winners (57). Shealea Garza “also served very well,” the coach said.
Ashby led the team with four blocks and three block assists. Creighton tallied 132 assists. Kaylee Byers led the team with 46 digs and Klara Sorensen was the serve-receive efficiency leader.
PHS was scheduled to travel to Flagstaff for a “huge” match with Coconino on Monday before playing host to Show Low tonight at 6:30.
“We are No. 16 and they are right ahead of us at No. 15,” Stonebrink said of Coconino and the Div. III power rankings. “A win would enable us to leapfrog them, and perhaps one or two other teams.
“We beat them in a regular match 3-2. They are quite good, and it should be a dogfight. Winning this would help our state chances immensely.”