Over the last two seasons, Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball coach Miguel Ramirez has seen the young base of his team grow up before his eyes.
As he enters his eighth season in charge of the Bulldogs, Ramirez knows his young pups have matured.
"We’re going to see how far we’ve grown," Ramirez said. "Our young core is now upperclassmen. We’ll see where that takes us. They’re more mature now, on the court and off the court. I couldn’t be happier with how they’ve developed. We’ll see if they can keep growing."
The Bulldogs had some success last year, as Stow finished 16-9 overall and 9-5 in the rigorous Suburban League National Conference. Stow also reached the Division I district final before losing to Walsh Jesuit.
Ramirez notes he’s pumped up the Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule.
"We felt that was necessary to get us where we want to go and that’s win the district title," Ramirez said. "We need to play teams like Walsh and Elyria to get ready."
The National Conference is likely to be loaded again, anchored by defending Division I state champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights. Ramirez believes North Royalton, Wadsworth and Hudson all are likely to be strong.
Abbey Dillon will serve as Stow’s varsity assistant coach, while Lizzie McDade will coach the junior varsity team. Pam Fair will serve as freshman coach.
Heading into his first game, Ramirez said he wasn’t sure which kind of offense Stow would run, noting he could have one or two setters on the floor this season.
Stow only lost three seniors to graduation, though that group included multiyear starters Maria Cistone and Lauren Turshak, as well as Kaylie Yaceczko.
Anchoring Stow’s five-member senior class will be outside hitter Julia DiPaola (5-foot-9). Ramirez notes DiPaolo fought back hard from an ACL tear in January and is good to go. She recently committed to play volleyball at Fairmont State University, an NCAA Division II college in West Virigina.
With the graduation losses at the net, versatile senior Jacy Guider (5-9) will start at right-side hitter this fall.
Senior Alyssa Tallarico (5-6) returns as Stow’s starting libero, while seniors Sydney Sterben (5-7) and Jillian Tegiacchi (5-2) will see time at defensive specialist.
Ramirez makes no bones that his top offensive weapon likely will be junior outside hitter Lizzy Stefanov (6 feet).
"She’s been playing a long time. She has a lot of experience and is developing into a really good athlete," Ramirez said. "She’s getting physically stronger. She’s really grown up. She’s very, very competitive."
Junior Lauren Fair (5-9) is the incumbent varsity starter at setter, but Ramirez notes junior setter Taylor Shark is pushing so hard, Stow might run a 6-2 offense this fall.
"They work really well together," Ramirez said. "I want them to be on the same page. I tend to be a little harder on the setter than most players."
Junior Brooke Britton (5-8) will have a bigger role this season at middle blocker and right-side hitter.
Junior defensive specialist Claire O’Verko (5-6) will start at "right back" for Stow and brings a wicked serving game.
"She was one of the league leaders in aces," Ramirez said. "I want her to build on what she did last year."
The void at middle blocker is likely to be filled by two sophomores this fall in Samantha Croyle (5-11) and Molly Richards (5-9), both of whom started on JV last year.
"Molly and Samantha have to learn it’s different playing on varsity, especially in this conference," Ramirez said.
Sophomore outside hitter Ryleigh Schelien (5-7) will split time between JV and varsity.
"I expect a lot of things from our freshman and JV teams this year," Ramirez said. "We’re going to need it next year when we graduate those five players."
Stow’s opening week of play will be a testing one. The Bulldogs open the season at Elyria Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. Stow’s home opener will be against Solon Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.
"We’re going to find out really how good we are right off the back," Ramirez said.