Payson entered Friday’s game at Snowflake hoping to upset one of the state’s top Division III volleyball teams.
The Longhorns were competitive, but couldn’t shock the Lobos. Snowflake, which is ranked No. 2 in the Div. III power rankings, prevailed 25-18, 28-26, 25-19. Payson entered at No. 14.
“I could live with this loss, because we lost to the No. 2 team in the state,” said PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink. “And they were a powerful team.
“And also because we didn’t give the game to them; they earned it. We played well; not perfectly, but well enough to give them a decent game.”
The coach is hoping Friday’s experience will benefit the Longhorns as they take on the Lobos again tonight in the Wilson Dome.
“There are a few tweaks and tinkering we can do to improve against the Lobos,” Stonebrink said. “I won’t say what they all are, but we do need to serve better against Snowflake.
“We got 92 percent of our serves in, which is good, but we got only three aces for the whole match. And the Lobos’ good passing enabled them to run their offense, which is powerful, even intimidating.
“Outside hitters Tandis Yellowhair and Emma Tenney not only destroy the ball, they move it around, and even tip. It’s really hard to set a defense one way against them with any sort of sustained success. So I think we need to serve more aggressively against them, get some free balls back so our offense dictates the play, not theirs.
“The Lobos played very well. They served effectively, they passed well, and their hitters hit extremely well; not just the outsides, but the middles hit well, too.”
The Longhorns’ best opportunity to win a set came in the second one.
“We came out on fire offensively, nailing kill after kill,” the coach said. “We jumped out to a big lead, and led late, 19-13. But Snowflake began ratcheting up their serving, and began hitting more consistently. They came back to tie the set and send it into overtime. We had two or three set points, but couldn’t convert and we lost.
“Had we pulled it out, we at worst would have been down 1-2 in sets, and headed to a fourth set.”
Stonebrink said the Longhorns were “pretty good” in the serve-receive category, with Kaylee Byers and Klara Sorensen leading the way.
“It set up our offense pretty well, and we hit a very respectable .165 against a solid team,” he said.
Selena Shill led PHS in kills (seven) and efficiency (.333, on 18 hits, with one error). Jade Holland hit .214 (14-5-2), Emmee Ashby hit .150 (20-6-3), and Mckenzie Creighton hit .143 (14-4-2).
Byers and Sorensen also tied for the team lead in digs, with six apiece. Creighton distributed 25 assists.
Kelsee Stonebrink and Emmee Ashby were “our bright spots serving,” the coach said. Stonebrink led in efficiency and winners (nine), and Ashby led in aces (two) and was second in efficiency. Creighton was second in winners with seven.
The Lobos also swept PHS in the JV and freshman games. “This is the first time this year one of our teams couldn’t at least win one set,” Stonebrink said. “It shows the strength of the Snowflake program. In fact, their sophomores have lost only once since seventh grade. That was this year against Flagstaff.”
Sixteen teams qualify for the Division III state tournament — two teams from each of the five sections and six at-large teams based on power rankings. PHS is No. 14 in the power rankings. They’d qualify for the state tournament if the season ended today. But it doesn’t and they’ll need to remain in the top 14 to qualify because neither of the top two teams in Section 2 are ranked in the top 16.
PHS closes the season with three games — Thursday at Phoenix Cortez (No. 42 in Div. III), Oct. 29 at Phoenix Moon Valley (No. 34 in Div. III) and Oct. 30 at home against Chino Valley (No. 39 in Div. IV).
Stonebrink believes the Longhorns will qualify if they can win those games, no matter what happens tonight.
“We should be able to hold that position if we don’t get upset our last three games,” he said.
“Window Rock (No. 15 Div. III) would have to pull off a huge upset, if not two of them, over Tuba City (No. 7) and Monument Valley (No. 6). And Coconino (No. 16) would have to pull off two huge upsets.
“So state is looking pretty good for us. We could maybe go up a spot in the rankings, even without beating Snowflake. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”