The Lady Longhorns had their backs against the wall in their home-opening volleyball match on Thursday night.
Visiting Flagstaff Coconino led 2-1 and was one set from sending Payson to a 0-2 start to the season.
But the home team rallied for a 25-20, 19-25, 21-25, 25-15, 15-8 victory to square its record at 1-1.
“We won a tough struggle,” said PHS coach Arnold Stonebrink.
“It was nice to get the win, coming off the heels of the tough loss to Saguaro (on Sept. 3). Each win is critical in trying to go to state/get a good seeding for state.”
After a strong first-set effort for Payson, Coconino controlled the tempo in sets two and three. The Lady Horns’ passing slipped and they struggled to run the offense consistently. Coconino’s tall middles and aggressive outside hitters had numerous opportunities to kill the ball.
“Four adjustments made a big difference for us in sets four and five to pull out the win,” Stonebrink said. “First, the passing picked back up again; our back row passers were able to consistently serve-receive and pass the ball up to the net, enabling setter Mckenzie Creighton to set the ball to all hitters.
“Second, we became more aggressive in serving, resulting in a few aces and a lot more free balls back to our side of the net.
“Third, JV player and back-up varsity outside hitter, sophomore Klara Sorensen, was inserted in those sets, and provided us with a nice spark, hitting .200.
“Fourth, we made adjustments on our blocking to enable us to pick up some stuffs, and really slow down the Panthers’ hitting.
“The score of the fifth set was deceptive; the set, two-thirds of the way through, was nip and tuck, and we found ourselves looking at a 6-8 deficit. But we sided out and caught fire through the tough floater serves of Mckenzie Creighton, who served eight straight winners, including two aces. The nine-straight points took us, in the space of five minutes, from a deficit, to a decisive victory. Three stuffs from blocking also broke Coconino’s back.”
Taylor Randall led all hitters with 10 kills and she hit a “solid” .214. Setter Mckenzie Creighton hit a “fantastic” .571, with eight kills in 14 attempts and no errors. Mckenzie set up the hitters to the tune of 26 assists.
“The blockers were very active and gave fits to the Panther hitters, as they recorded eight stuffs, led by Taylor Randall’s two stuffs and one stuff assist,” Stonebrink said.
“We had a great serving night, as the team recorded 17 aces, led by Cori Barnett’s five, and Taylor Randall and Emmee Ashby’s four, and Mckenzie Creighton’s three. Mckenzie’s 14 service winners led the Lady Horns.
“Our nucleus of back row players, Kaylee Byers, Harley Turney and Shealea Garza, had a solid day of serve-receiving. Setter Mckenzie Creighton led the team in serve-receiving efficiency, even though she serve-receives from only one rotation. The Panthers kept serving to her, and she kept making them pay,” Stonebrink concluded.