STOW — Hudson and Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball have been playing heated contests for years.

In the long history of Bulldogs vs. Explorers, however, one would be hard-pressed to find a more intense match than the Division I district semifinal game played Tuesday at James G. Tyree Gymnasium. 

Stow rallied from a set down twice and fended off two match points before defeating Hudson 21-25, 25-20, 24-26, 25-19, 17-15 to advance to the district final. The Bulldogs (16-8) will face Walsh Jesuit in the district final Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Tyree Gymnasium, as the Warriors defeated Copley in the other semifinal Tuesday.

Hudson finished the season at 8-17.

Stow coach Lizzy McDade said the match was a complete toss-up and paid tribute to her team’s mental toughness.

“Hudson played phenomenally tonight,” McDade said. “Three of the five set tonight were anybody’s set. Like I told the girls, we didn’t go through everything we went through this season for nothing.”

Hudson coach Brad Disandis said his team gave it everything it had.

“I’m just really proud of the way we fought tonight,” Disandis said. “The rivalry is alive and well. Some balls are going to bounce our way and some are going to bounce their way. When you’ve got a play like Lizzy Stefanov, she can really come at you if they get her the ball.”

The first set was microcosm of the match, as the two teams went back and forth. Hudson showed it wasn’t going to be an easy night for Stow early, as the Explorers took an early 10-4 lead, thanks to work at the net from Regina Alvarez. Disandis noted Alvarez had one of the best games of the seaosn, as she finished with 12 kills to lead the Explorers.

Stow rallied to take the lead at 13-11, thanks to eight straight service points from senior Brooke Britton. However, Hudson would fight back, as Stow committed several errors. Hudson’s Allyson Yanak claimed set one for the Explorers with a kill down the line. Yanuk finished with seven  kills.

Set two was the only set that didn’t see a lead change, as junior hitters Ryleigh Schelien and Molly Richards got their offense going. Stow led 13-6 before Disandis called timeout.

Hudson cut the lead to 16-13, thanks to some kills by Cailynn Sullivan, but the Bulldogs never relinquished the lead. Richards tied the match at a set apiece with a kill. Stow had five aces in the set.

Schelien had 15 kills, 17 digs and six aces on the night, while Richards had 14 kills.

After a tight start to set three, Stow seemed to have the momentum, as it took a 22-17 lead late. But then Murphy’s Law hit the Bulldogs.

Stow was called for hitting or passing violations on six of the last 10 points in the set, allowing Hudson to get back into the match off the serve of Cami Madar.

After the set was tied at 24, a hitting error on Stow set up set point and Sullivan killed it to give Stow at 2-1 lead.

Buoyed by their rally in set three, Hudson seemed to have the Bulldogs on the ropes in set four, as McDade called timeout with her team down 14-7.

Stow senior Lizzy Stefanov she got a bit emotional talking with setter Lauren Fair during the timeout.

“We were talking about how this could be our last game here,” Stefanov said.

“In the timeout, we saw our seniors getting teary-eyed,” Schelien said. “We said, we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t end this way, not just for us but our seniors.”

While Stefanov claimed she wasn’t crying, Schelien stepped up. The junior rattled notched a pair of aces and help Stow turn a 14-7 deficit to a 17-15 lead when Hudson called timeout.

Stefanov did her best work down the stretch as she had five kills in the fourth set. Stefanov sent the match to set five by putting an ace down on the line.

“I told the girls in set four ‘Did we think it was going be any different?’” Disandis said. “They’re playing for something tonight and I knew they were going to come back with everything they had.”

Fittingly, the fifth set was another seesaw affair. Stefanov and Richard were able to push Stow out to an 12-7 lead, only to see the Explorers rally back.

A tip kill from Madar and kill out of bounds on Stow tied the set at 12-12. It was tied at 13-13 when a kill from Alvarez gave Hudson match point.

Hudson was then called for four hits to tie the match again, before Sullivan had a kill in the middle to give Hudson a second match point at 15-14.

However, the Explorers were called for net violation and had a hitting error, giving Stow match point at 16-15. Schelien then ended the match by putting her kill off the Hudson block, setting off celebrations for the Bulldogs.

Stefanov was all over the court for Stow, finishing with 29 kills and 19 digs, while Fair dished out 60 assists. Bulldogs libero Claire O’Verko had 28 digs.

Hudson setter Lindsay Sadler also had a big night with 44 assists, while Explorer libero Kendall Mackay had 32 digs.

Stefanov said she would be be looking to avenge a loss Saturday in the district final, as Walsh Jesuit eliminated Stow in the district final two years ago.

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