The opening night of the volleyball season wasn’t a joyous one for Payson High at Saguaro on Tuesday.
The freshman team lost 2-0. The junior varsity fell 2-1. And the varsity came out on the short end of a 25-15, 25-23, 24-26, 25-23 score.
“It was a rough night all around,” said varsity coach Arnold Stonebrink.
The Sabercats took advantage of a tentative Lady Longhorns team early.
“The varsity had a very slow start,” Stonebrink said. “We were tentative in our passes and serving and allowed Saguaro to take the initiative and control the net. They hit us hard and rolled to the easy first-set victory.
“The second set saw us be more assertive in our passes, but the difference in the set was Saguaro’s tough serving. They induced enough free balls from us to make the difference again, in getting more spikes.
“We fell behind 18-12, but an Emmee Ashby serving run got us back into it. And we got to within one point, 23-24, from forcing overtime,” Stonebrink said.
“The next set also was a barnburner. Both teams went back and forth, and the difference this time was our serving came alive and we were able to pull out the win in overtime, 26-24.”
A Kaylee Byers serve ended it.
“The last set was the one that got away. Saguaro looked tired and had lost their crispness, especially in the passing game. We were ahead 22-16, on the cusp of forcing a fifth set, when Saguaro sent up a suddenly hot server. We struggled against her and made a couple errors even when we passed up their serves well. Six straight points gave them the tie and 23-22 was the last lead we enjoyed before a three-point run did us in.
“The sudden turn of events shocked me. Up to that point, we had all the momentum in the world,” he said.
The Longhorns had strong play from their middle hitters. Ashby had nine kills and one error in 20 attempts (.400 hitting efficiency). Cori Barnett had six kills and one error in 13 attempts (.385).
Ashby also led the team in serving with 11 winners in 19 serves and four aces. Ashby and Mckenzie Creighton led Payson with two block assists apiece. Creighton led the Horns with 29 assists. Shealea Garza was Payson’s top serve receiver.
The Longhorns play host at the Payson Invitational today and Saturday.