STOW — In recent years, the Hudson and Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball teams have had some epic matches.
Last year, the Lady Bulldogs defeated the Lady Explorers three times.
All three of those matches went five sets.
So when the two teams met Sept. 12, it would have been no surprise to see those teams play another marathon.
Sadly for Hudson, it was not to be.
Host Stow improved to 7-4 overall and 3-2 in the Suburban League National Conference after posting a 26-24, 25-10, 25-20 victory over Hudson.
The match took place at Stow-Munroe Falls High School's James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
The Lady Explorers led much of the way in the first set and had a set point.
But the Lady Bulldogs finished strong and then built on that momentum to completely dominate the second set.
In the third set, Hudson came out firing and led 6-0 at one point.
However, the Lady Bulldogs once again proved to be superior down the stretch to earn a rare straight-set win over their rivals to the north.
"When we won the first set, it actually made me more nervous," Stow head coach Miguel Ramirez said. "I knew it was going to set the tone for the match. We knew it was going to be a real fight."
The Lady Explorers, who dropped to 2-4 overall and 1-4 in the conference, had their chances in the first and third sets.
But Hudson couldn't find its rhythm when it mattered most.
Such situations have been a common theme for the Lady Explorers throughout the season.
When it seems like Hudson has things rolling, those same things have a tendency to take a wicked 180-degree turn.
"We're really struggling and that's frustrating," Lady Explorers head coach Brad Disandis said. "We need to learn how we can grow from the moments we face. We were right there in two out of three sets."
Having the two most imposing front-court players certainly helped the Lady Bulldogs.
Stow's dynamic duo of outside hitters, junior Lizzy Stefanov and senior Julia DiPaola, imposed their wills on Hudson's defense throughout the match.
They were particularly lethal during the big moments.
If Lady Bulldogs' junior setter Lauren Fair got a ball near Stefanov or DiPaola, the Lady Explorers could do little to stop them.
"They're nice security blankets to have," Ramirez said of his two gifted outside hitters. "I've known both of them since they were in fifth and sixth grade. To watch them grow up since the very beginning has been really enjoyable for me to watch."
Stefanov, who plans to continue her academic and volleyball careers at Tulane University in New Orleans, led the way with 21 kills and 22 digs.
DiPaola, who plans to continue playing at Fairmont State University, finished with 7 kills and 21 digs.
DiPaola has been a force for Stow throughout her career despite having major surgery on both of her knees.
"She had surgery in February and was cleared to play in July," Ramirez said. "It's really remarkable how far she has come."
While Stow could rely on its main weapons during crunch time, Hudson is still trying to figure out what works best.
The Lady Explorers recently tweaked their lineup to give their offense a boost.
But Hudson is still struggling with consistency.
"We have a great group of kids who want it really bad," Disandis said. "They just have to translate desire into focus. They have to learn to manage the moments they're going to face."
Senior libero Alyssa Tallarico had 11 digs and middle blockers Samantha Croyle a junior, and Jacy Guider, a senior, had 4 kills apiece for the Lady Bulldogs.
Croyle also had 2 blocks and Fair finished with 37 assists. Junior Claire O'Verko added 3 aces for Stow.
Junior outside hitter Regina Alvarez led the Lady Explorers with 11 kills and senior outside hitter Dani Turner and junior middle hitter Cami Madar added 7 and 4 kills, respectively, for Hudson.
Turner also had 12 digs and junior libero Kendall Mackay finished with a team-high 22 digs for the Lady Explorers.
Also contributing for Hudson were senior outside hitter Madeline Gaeta (14 digs) and sophomore defensive specialist Amelia Hoffmeier (11 digs).
The Lady Bulldogs earned a 28-26, 25-23 win in the junior varsity match.
Stow is scheduled to visit National Conference rival Cuyahoga Falls Sept. 14 before heading to Brecksville-Broadview Heights Sept. 19 and North Royalton Sept. 21 for conference showdowns. All three varsity matches are set to begin at 7 p.m.
The Lady Explorers are scheduled to visit conference foe Twinsburg Sept. 14. Play is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Hudson is scheduled to visit Notre Dame Cathedral Latin High School in Chardon for a six-team tournament Sept. 16. Play is set to begin at 9 a.m.