HUDSON — There are still plenty of formidable opponents lurking on the schedule.
But the Explorers have accomplished something they hadn’t achieved since the Suburban League expanded to a 15-team, two-conference format.
The Hudson girls volleyball team has a winning record in conference play nearly midway through the season.
The host Explorers improved to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the Suburban League National
Conference after earning a convincing 25-19, 25-12, 25-17 victory over Cuyahoga Falls. The match took place Tuesday at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
Hudson had a few lapses that allowed the pesky Black Tigers to make things interesting from time to time.
In the end, though, the Explorers put matters to rest with a strong finish.
"I think this is probably the first time that I can remember that we’re actually over .500 in the conference in this many games," Hudson head coach Brad Disandis said. "We’re moving in the right direction. The lapses are going to happen and we’re going to try to work on minimizing them."
The Black Tigers were very competitive for much of the first and third sets, respectively. Falls had a knack for digging nearly impossible balls to keep rallies alive.
At times, the Black Tigers’ blue-collar magic seemed to throw off the taller, deeper and more athletic Hudson players.
"I have a ton of respect for [Falls head coach] Lisa [Wood]," Disandis said. "Playing in our conference, it’s brutal. Whether it’s them or us or anybody else, you have to fight for everything you’re going to get.
"If you come out and you go halfway, you can make it really hard on yourself. We’ve done that a few times this year where we didn’t play like we sure of ourselves or didn’t play aggressively."
The Explorers were able to dictate the pace when it mattered most, though. A talented sophomore middle hitter certainly did.
Led by Page Gross, Hudson ended the match with an 11-4 run. Gross had eight kills and two blocks to lead the Explorers’ front-row attack.
"She has just played tremendous for us," Disandis said of his first-year varsity player, who transferred to Hudson from Padua Franciscan in Parma. "She has been such a great addition to this team. We’re trying to run a lot more to our middles and try to take advantage of that position.
"In our conference, maybe a team has one good middle who is maybe not quite as big or as strong. I feel like we have two really good middles in Page and Rylyn [Dearstine]. Both are really good in different ways, which also helps the tempo and the rhythm that we can play at."
Cailynn Sullivan and Allyson Yanak each added seven kills and two blocks and left-handed Brooke Ramlow, who is thriving as both an outside hitter and a setter, was her usual versatile self with 17 assists, 15 service points, eight digs and four kills for the Explorers.
"She just started setting on Aug. 1," Disandis said of Ramlow. "The first day of tryouts, we asked her to try it. She has just gotten better and better and better. She is getting more and more comfortable."
Morgan Gaeta also had a strong all-around performance for Hudson with 15 service points, including six aces, and nine digs.
Others who fared well for the Explorers were Amelia Hoffmeier (16 digs and two aces), Anna Faust (five digs and two aces), Rylyn Dearstine (four kills and two blocks) and Melissa Hansen (16 assists).
Left-handed front-row ace Olivia Lemmon led Falls with nine kills and Hope Cuppett added four kills for the Black Tigers.
Kaelyn Staples finished with nine digs and four kills and Maddie Gibbons contributed 17 assists for Falls, which had a knack for making Hudson a bit uncomfortable with its strong defense.
"I give [the Black Tigers] a lot of credit," Disandis said. "They fought for a bunch of balls. They’re digging at balls, stabbing at balls. It can be unconventional, but it’s effective. I kept telling the girls, you have to be ready for anything."
The conference schedule doesn’t expect to get any easier for the Explorers. With powerhouses such as Wadsworth, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Stow-Munroe Falls and Nordonia punishing each other on a regular basis, Disandis knows his team’s modest breakthrough could be a mirage when it’s all said and done.
Nevertheless, he’ll gladly take his chances with his emerging team.
"What I like most about our group is, I like the way they responded after we’ve had tough matches," Disandis said.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.