Tuba City makes earns second at Payson Invite

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

PAYSON, Ariz., September 6, 2012

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(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Ganado Lady Hornets Cailey Lujan (1) spikes the ball to Payson defenders Saturday night during the Payson volleyball tournament in Payson, Ariz.

SECOND FROM TOP: Holbrook Lady Roadrunners Tess Baldonado (8) hits the ball over the net as Winslow's Shandiin Armao, right, and her teammate defends Saturday in Payson, Ariz.

THIRD FROM TOP: A Safford Bulldogs hitter powers the ball over the net against a defending Tuba City Lady Warriors Rynell Natoney, right, Saturday night at the Payson volleyball tournament.

FOURTH FROM TOP: Ganado Lady Hornets Nicole Curley, middle, hits the ball in between two Payson defenders Saturday in Payson.

FIFTH FROM TOP: Holbrook Lady Roadrunners Demi Phaturos (1) watches the ball go over the net Saturday at the Payson volleyball tournament.

F or the Tuba City volleyball team, everything had gone according to plan.

After losing to Safford in the semifinals of the double-elimination championship bracket during the 2012 Payson Invitational, the Warriors worked their way back into finals and forced an "if necessary" game.

But after beating Safford in two straight sets (25-17, 25-15) the Warriors simply ran out of gas and lost the championship game by a 25-20 count.

"I am satisfied with our finish," said Tuba City coach Harlan Barlow. "First place would have been sweet, but then again we made it back into the championship game, which is good."

Barlow said the odds were stacked against his club after the first lost to Safford (25-19, 14-24, 6-11), but he was pleased that they were able to overcome adversity.

"Once you lose and go into that loser's bracket you have to play game after game after game," he said. "And it all becomes mental. This is why I like to play this tournament because it mentally prepares you for the future. It also gives us a preview of what the state tournament should look like."

In the final game of the tournament, the Warriors looked out of sync and trailed 16-6 in the early going.

But they gave Safford a push in the final moments and got two kills each from Shiniya Henry and Rynell Natoney to pull within 23-15.

Safford then self-destructed with five straight hitting errors before they got a key block from their middle hitter.

"Our momentum went down," junior setter Kamia Yazzie said of their plight in the final game. "We stuck it out the last few points and we fought hard."

Safford coach Janene Ward even took notice of that fighters' mentality.

"You know what Tuba City is such a fundamental sound team," Ward said. "They do everything well so they are tough to beat. This is really a feather in our cap to get this thing done today."

In the two sets they lost, Ward said her club had tough time with their serve-receive.

"Tuba City serves the ball so well," she said. "Their ball moves so much that we talked about if we can get the ball to our setters we can run an offense.

"Those first two games our setters were everywhere," she added. "And after that I think the girls settled down really nicely and passed the ball, which was what they needed to do."

In other tournament action, the Ganado Hornets beat two quality opponents from Page and Florence before they lost to Tuba City in the third round of tournament play. The Hornets kept the game close before they came up short in two sets with the score being 25-22, 25-21.

"I think we played well against Tuba City and Florence," Ganado coach Jerome Burns said. "They're both really great teams and we're getting there."

After that encounter, the Hornets bowed out of the tournament and lost to Payson in straight sets (25-19, 25-10).

"I always say defense wins games," Burns said. "Our defense didn't do so well. We definitely need to focus more on defense. The passing wasn't there and that is one big area we need to improve."

Nonetheless, Burns said his club is on the verge of breaking through into the next level.

"I think this group of seniors are doing a really good job," he said. "We're on track and like I said before we are on the cusp of doing something great."

In the consolation bracket, the Winslow Bulldogs went 2-2 and finished third overall.

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