STOW — It had been a good week for Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball.

The Bulldogs earned coach Lizzy McDade her first win as head coach last Saturday, beating Aurora 25-17, 25-21, 24-26, 14-25, 15-10 at home. 

Stow took momentum from that win into its Suburban League National Conference opener at North Royalton Tuesday. The Bulldogs swept the Bears 25-20, 25-22, 25-19.

However, McDade and her charges knew they were facing perhaps their biggest challenge of the young season when they hosted Wadsworth Thursday at James G. Tyree Gymnasium. After the match, McDade was not pleased.

Wadsworth scored the win in four sets, as the Bulldogs fell 16-25, 25-19, 20-25, 13-25. McDade made it clear she felt her team wilted in the fourth set.

"I don’t think we could handle the situation mentally," McDade said. "It’s incredibly disappointing after they played so well early in the match.

"I told them it’s unacceptable, but we’re going to build on what we did in sets 2 and 3."

Wadsworth coach Jill Klingbeil said she knew her team was in for a night of offensive volleyball.

"I thought our endurance was good," Klingbeil said. "We knew once we hit, we were going to have to move and hit again. We couldn’t stand still tonight."

Fans looking to see a showcase of the two teams’ stars got a treat, as Stow outside hitter Lizzy Stefanov (heading to Tulane University) and Wadsworth outside hitter Kacie Evans (heading to the University of Georgia) each had a huge game. Stafanov had 15 kills and 12 digs for the Bulldogs, while Evans put up 18 kills and 17 digs for the Grizzlies.

In the first set, Wadworth showed it had other attacking options besides Evans, as setter Lauren Conley and outside hitter Evelyn Haydu got into the act. 

After Stow tied the opening set at 14-14, Wadsworth rattled off six points to blow it open. The Grizzlies claimed the first set when middle hitter Sylvia Reynolds put a block down.

In the second set, Stefanov asserted herself, which allowed Stow to take control of the set early. The Bulldogs got six straight service points from senior Brooke Britton to take a 12-5 lead and the Bulldogs were in control from there.

Stow had several instances of multiple blocks in on point, as the Bulldogs tried to slow down Evans. Junior middle hitter Molly Evans and Britton each had five blocks.

"We wanted to get block touches on her," McDade said. "They all played well that set."

Stow claimed Set 2 when Haydu put a serve out of bounds.

Set 3 was a see-saw affair as the teams tied on eight different points. However, Wadsworth found a bit more firepower in the stretch, as six different Grizzlies had kills in the set. An Evans kill gave Wadsworth a 2-1 lead.

The fourth set started out very competitive, as Stow took an early 4-1 lead. However, after McDade called timeout with Stow down 10-8, the Bulldogs’ serving and passing fell apart. 

Wadsworth ended up scoring 17 of the last 22 points in the match, as Stow seemed to have no answers. Evans’ 18th kill of the night ended the match.

"We’re in an extremely tough conference," McDade said. "We’ve got to be ready to go mentally every single night."

Setter Lauren Fair had 27 assists and 11 digs in the loss, while Ryleigh Schelien had three aces.

Against Aurora, Stefanov was all over the court again, finishing with 27 kills, 22 digs and four aces. Fair pumped out 52 assists in the five-set affair, while libero Claire O’Verko had 15 digs and two aces. Schelien added 14 kills.

In the win over North Royalton, Stefanov and Schelien led the charge again with 20 and 10 kills, respectively. Fair had another big night with 41 assists, while O’Verko had 21 digs and Britton added 12 digs.

Stow will take on a pair of National Conference foes this week, as they host Nordonia Tuesday and travel to Twinsburg Thursday. Varsity start time for both matches is at 7 p.m.

Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, mleonard@recordpub.com or @MLeonard_RPC