WADSWORTH — So you want to play volleyball in the Suburban League National Conference?
Doing so requires tangling with two packs of bears — which is exactly what Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball had to deal with this week. Not only that, but Stow had to go five rounds with each pack.
Stow opened its National Conference schedule by hosting North Royalton Aug. 29 at the James G. Tyree Gymnasium. The contest turned into a five-set marathon, as the Bears scored a 19-25, 25-20, 25-20, 21-25, 15-10 win over the Bulldogs.
Then, Stow travelled to Wadsworth Aug. 31. After falling behind by two sets, Stow rallied to force a fifth set before falling 25-13, 27-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-10 to the Grizzlies.
Stow’s record moved to 2-2, 0-2 in the National Conference.
"We just started out slowly tonight," Stow coach Miguel Ramirez said after the Wadsworth game. "We can’t do that against a team like this in a tough place to play. If we could have started better, we could have put a whole different stamp on this game."
The central figure in Wadsworth’s attack was junior outside hitter Kacie Evans, who led the Grizzlies with 33 kills, 30 digs and three aces on the night.
Evans was unstoppable early as the University of Georgia recruit put down nine kills the first set alone.
Although Stow’s Lizzy Stefanov also had a bunch of early kills in the first set, Wadsworth broke open set one when setter Stacy Witschey ran off five straight service points to make it 16-9.
Stow never recovered from that spurt, as Wadsworth took set one when a Stefanov kill attempt bounced off the net.
Set two was a much more back-and-forth affair. After Stow trailed 5-2 early, the Bulldogs led 14-10 before Wadsworth came back.
After the set was tied at 23-23, Stow was able to stave off a pair of set points before a big kill from Evans made it 2-0.
Wadsworth coach Jill Klingbeil said she knew Stow would rebound.
"They’re a competitive team and this is a tough conference," Klingbeil said. "We knew they would come at us."
Indeed, Stow found its offense through Stefanov and outside hitter Julia DiPaula in the third set. Stow took a lead of 13-10 and then tore the set open when Stefanov scored five straight service points.
Sophomore middle blocker Molly Richards also stepped into Stow’s offense and helped contain Evans.
"We’re more than just one player," Ramirez said. "We showed a lot of heart tonight coming back from two sets down."
Wadsworth tried to rally, but Stow took the third set when the Grizzlies were called for a lift on set point.
Stow kept the momentum going in the fourth set, leading by as many as 18-12 early.
A tip kill by DiPaola ended set four and sent the match to a fifth set.
"We got a little bit out of our system in the third and fourth set," Klingbeil said. "We did a good job getting back into it."
With the gym buzzing, Wadsworth’s strategy in the fifth set was to feed Evans as much as possible. The Grizzlies got an early 5-2 lead and Stow was never able to recover.
Evans’ 33rd kill of the night clinched the match for the Grizzlies.
Stefanov led Stow with 21 kills and had 19 digs, while DiPaula finished with 15 kills, 15 digs and three aces. Setter Lauren Fair handed out 42 assists, while libero Alyssa Tallarico finished with 30 digs.
Stow will travel to Aurora Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. before visiting Nordonia Sept. 7 p.m. The Bulldogs will then host Twinsburg Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.