STOW — What’s it like playing against the Hudson girls volleyball team in recent weeks?
Probably not particularly fun.
Of course, Brad Disandis doesn’t mind. The Explorers head coach is loving every second of it.
"I feel like we’re really hard to beat," Disandis said.
Hudson’s fiercest rival won’t object. The embattled Bulldogs had an unfortunate front-row seat to watch the Explorers’ superlative performance.
It took place in their own theater too.
Hudson earned a convincing 25-18, 25-19, 25-23 victory over host Stow-Munroe Falls Thursday at James G. Tyree Gymnasium. With the win, the Explorers improved to 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the Suburban League National Conference. It was Hudson’s third victory in their last four National Conference matches.
So how did Disandis feel after the match? Let’s just say his mood was pretty jovial to say the least.
"Right now, they’re doing really well and they’re doing the right stuff," Disandis said.
Hudson had the "right stuff" the moment the match began.
Thanks to some excellent passing, thunderous hitting and the precise, high-velocity serving of Morgan Gaeta, the Explorers jumped all over the Bulldogs early.
Hudson built a 9-1 lead when Brooke Ramlow blocked a Stow spike. It was the Explorers’ seventh straight point off Gaeta’s serve.
In a sport where the momentum frequently switches 180 degrees in the blink of an eye, Hudson’s near flawless play hit a bit of a rough patch. Thus, the Bulldogs got back in the match just as their opponents looked nearly invincible. In fact, when Emily Dittman crushed an ace, the Explorers’ once insurmountable lead was trimmed to 15-12.
No worries for Hudson, though.
The Explorers won six of the last nine points to take the first set. Cailynn Sullivan put matters to rest with a well-placed kill on set point.
The second set was more of the same. Hudson built a comfortable lead and didn’t look back. However, the proud Bulldogs (2-8, 2-4), who recently switched to a triple-middle attack, gained a little bit of momentum with some much-needed stellar play when their backs were against the wall.
Stow also benefited from a series of hitting errors by the suddenly careless Explorers.
"It’s kind of common in this sport," Disandis said. "When you go up 2-0 on somebody, it’s easy for the girls to say, ‘We got this.’ You forget about all of the little things you go through that you did the first two sets."
In the end, though, the Bulldogs’ momentum was short-lived.
Despite trailing most of the third set, Hudson scored the last four points to finish the match. Amelia Hoffmeier won the last three points on her serve and Ramlow delivered the final blow with a monstrous kill on match point.
"We were lucky to pull that third set out," Disandis said. "I like our tenacity. In other years, we may have let that one slip away, but I feel we’re moving in the right direction."
So who carried the load during the Explorers’ emphatic statement against a team that hasn’t been particularly kind to Hudson in recent years? It’s a good bet Disandis liked the answer.
"Since we have so many weapons and with the way our setters are spreading the ball around, it’s really hard to figure out where we’re going with the ball," Disandis said. "We have good outside hitters; we have good right-side hitters and we have dominant middles. We have six girls contributing and that makes it really hard for our opponents to keep up with us."
It has been particularly hard to keep up with Ramlow, who is thriving as both a point guard and a finisher in Hudson’s quickly evolving 6-2 attack. The junior outside hitter/setter finished with 11 kills, 11 assists and eight digs.
Gaeta showcased a lethal serve throughout the evening. She had 12 service points and was a defensive force with 16 digs. Gaeta shined offensively too as she smashed home four kills.
Page Gross delivered some strong serving, as well, with seven service points. She also had four kills and three blocks.
"Page did a good job serving the ball [Thursday]," Disandis said. "Our blocking and our ability to slow balls down are what make us really different than what we’ve had in the last few years."
Rylyn Dearstine, a freshman middle hitter, finished with six kills and was even more impressive defensively with four blocks.
"She has no fear," Disandis said of Dearstine. "She’s so athletic. Man, she jumps. All of these girls are high flyers. All the way around, our front row did a great job."
Sullivan and Allyson Yanak gave the Explorers even more explosive depth in the front row with five kills and two blocks apiece.
Also faring well for Hudson were its unsung trio of Hoffmeier (25 digs and two aces), Melissa Hansen (22 assists and six digs) and Anna Faust (12 digs).
"We can’t do anything without passing the ball," Disandis said. "If we don’t pass the ball, we can’t run an offense."
Stow’s leading lady was Samantha Croyle, who had 10 kills, seven digs and four blocks. Molly Richards added seven kills and Kira Philpot finished with three blocks for the Bulldogs.
Not to be outdone, Olivia Harris contributed 26 assists and eight digs and Ryleigh Schelien had 11 digs for Stow.
Prior to this season, the Explorers struggled mightily against the vaunted National Conference. It has been quite a different story this fall.
Hudson has now defeated former state champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights, North Royalton and Stow. By the way, all three of those teams didn’t exactly make life too enjoyable for the Explorers since the Suburban League switched to a 15-team, two-conference format.
It looks like they’re enjoying themselves now.
"I can’t be more proud of the girls for getting out of here in three sets," Disandis said. "We knew they were going to battle and fight. That’s a good team."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.