STOW — In recent years, the Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball team has been one of the better teams in the area.

Cuyahoga Falls, on the other hand, has struggled mightily especially since the Lady Black Tigers joined the Suburban League National Conference three years ago.

The Lady Bulldogs were able to complete a sweep against their archrivals Tuesday.

But they had a bit of a fight on their hands to close the deal.

Host Stow improved to 13-7 overall and 9-4 in the National Conference after posting a 25-12, 25-13, 25-21 victory over Falls at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.

The Lady Black Tigers, who have yet to win a National Conference match since the Suburban League switched to a two-conference format in 2015, fell to 2-17 overall and 0-12 in the conference.

After breezing through the first two sets and getting everybody on the roster a chance to show her skills, the Lady Bulldogs were a bit blindsided by a resilient and spirited Falls' team.

The Lady Black Tigers jumped out to a 5-1 lead and when senior Hannah Merten delivered a kill off a Stow block, the match was tied at 16.

However, the Lady Bulldogs eventually regained their mojo and put the match away.

Senior outside hitter Julia DiPaola finished the match in style with a kill to give Stow the straight-set win.

"They play hard," Lady Bulldogs head coach Miguel Ramirez said of the Lady Black Tigers. "They always play hard. You have to give them credit."

On this night, which has been the case over the years, Stow simply had too many weapons.

Not suprisingly, the Lady Bulldogs were led by DiPaola and junior outside hitter Lizzy Stefanov.

Thanks to the accurate setting of junior Lauren Fair, DiPaola and Stefanov had plenty of opportunities to swing away.

And they did.

Both players overwhelmed Falls with their powerful striking. And if the right ball came their way, they usually didn't miss.

Nonetheless, Lady Black Tigers head coach Josh Stewart has liked his team's spirit in recent weeks.

His players certainly haven't thrown the towel on the season despite facing far superior condition in the loaded National Conference.

"The girls have joked around and they're having fun," Stewart said. "The seniors have been engaged as much as possible. They're not begrudglingly going through the season."

It was almost as if the Lady Bulldogs were playing musical chairs in the first two sets.

They made several subsitutions as every player on the varsity roster saw action.

"Everybody got to play," Ramirez said. "That's always a good thing. All of them work hard in practice and they get the same repetitions as our starters during drills.

"I thought they did a good job of not ruining our rhythm. Even though we were subbing a lot, we were able to still score points and pull away."

Stefanov had her usual strong all-around match with 20 kills, 9 digs and 2 blocks.

DiPaolo finished with 11 kills, 7 digs and 4 aces.

Fair contributed 16 assists in limited action. Backup junior setter Taylor Shark played the entire third set and finished with 24 assists for Stow.

"We want to get ready for the tournament," Ramirez said. "Teams can get derailed if something happens to their setter, so we wanted to make sure Taylor got some reps.

"She did a nice job, considering the circumstances. It's a little different starting off a set than finishing it. To put a whole set together is difficult to do."

Senior libero Allysa Tallarico had 7 digs and senior Claire O'Verko added 2 aces for the Lady Bulldogs.

Senior Jacquelyn Shields had 5 kills to lead Falls and senior setter Rebecca Postlewaite contributed 4 assists for the Lady Black Tigers.

Junior McKenzie Flick added 4 digs for Falls, which got the 10th seed in the Stow Division I sectional-district tournament.

The Lady Black Tigers are scheduled to play seventh-seeded Akron Ellet in a sectional semifinal match Oct. 18 at 5:30 p.m.

If Falls wins that match, it will have a date with second-seeded Stow Oct. 21 at noon.

"We feel comfortable about our first match," Stewart said. "Our level of play we see every day far exceeds what you see in the City Series."

Walsh Jesuit is the top seed and Akron Archbishop Hoban and Kent Roosevelt received the third and fourth seeds, respectively.

"I liked our draw," Ramirez said. "Walsh got the well-deserved top seed. They've won the district title a lot.

"It's a matter of playing well at the right time. Just because you're Stow, Walsh or Hoban doesn't mean it's an automatic ticket to the district title."

The Lady Bulldogs are scheduled to entertain National Conference foe and defending Division I state champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights Wednesday at 7 p.m.

They are set to conclude their regular season at home against crossover rival Kent Roosevelt Saturday at 4 p.m.

"This week is a good test for us to get ready for the tournament," Ramirez said. "We've have a couple of rough weeks where we had three matches in a week.

"I think we've made strides in terms of getting closer to that level of some of the stronger teams in our league. We'll see how that translates in the tournament."

The Lady Black Tigers are scheduled to host conference foe North Royalton Thursday before concluding their regular season on the road against conference rival Twinsburg next Mnday. Both matches are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

"We'll get through this week," Stewart said. "We've faced Ellet and Firestone over the years. It's just a matter of maintaining some sort of focus and drive."


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