CUYAHOGA FALLS — It has been an ongoing trend for the Stow-Munroe Falls girls volleyball team.
And Liz McDade has done everything in her power to stop it.
"A lot of the time, we’ll be doing well and the next thing you know, the [other] team is right back in the match," the Bulldogs head coach said.
Those troubling tendencies didn’t completely vanish during Stow’s visit to Coach Tom Jones Court on Tuesday.
But the Bulldogs may have finally taken a crucial first step toward turning the corner.
Stow improved to 3-11 overall and 3-4 in the Suburban League National Conference after easily defeating archrival Cuyahoga Falls 25-11, 25-17, 25-19 on the road.
The Bulldogs, who recently switched to a three-middle offense, took the initiative right from the start and didn’t give the struggling Black Tigers a chance the entire way.
For McDade, this kind of performance had been lacking ever since her players first took the court several weeks ago.
"That was the most complete match we’ve played so far," she said. "I felt like they did pretty well. I hope we’re moving in the right direction. It feels like it. I’m cautiously optimistic at this point."
Falls, on the other hand, wasn’t particularly interested in Stow’s need for a pick-me-up. The Black Tigers have their own issues.
For starters, Falls is simply too passive, according to one person who has significant ties to the program.
"Consistency is one thing, but this isn’t a consistency thing," Black Tigers head coach Lisa Wood said. "This is a game of aggression. It’s a game of who wants to win and who’s going to take that extra step. Who’s going to take that extra initiative? Who’s going to be the one to step up?"
A few of the players successfully answered Wood’s questions. Unfortunately for Wood, they wore maroon and gold colors.
Stow’s Sara Day finished all matters, thanks to her lethal serve. Day had three straight aces and wound up serving the last four points of the match. The diminutive libero finished with seven aces and 16 digs.
This display of masterful serving by the opponent has been a common sight for Wood. Let’s just say she doesn’t particularly care for watching these same reruns.
"We need to work on our serve receive," Wood said. "That is one area where we’re really low at. But when it comes to defense in the back row, we’re very good. Once we get it up and then we have to put the ball away, we’re not putting the ball away.
"It’s hard to put the ball away if we’re not passing the ball to set the ball to hit. It’s not really my front row or my back row. Sometimes it’s my back row and sometimes it’s my front row. If they all played together, I can’t imagine what we’d really look like."
McDade, on the other hand, saw her fantasy come to life as several players excelled for the Bulldogs.
Molly Richards led the front row with nine kills and Emily Dittman smashed home eight kills for Stow.
The swing fest didn’t end there.
Ryleigh Schelien registered five kills to go along with 16 digs and Kira Philpot contributed four kills and two blocks. Samantha Croyle added three kills for the Bulldogs. Stow settler Olivia Harris finished with 31 assists.
"What we’ve noticed is, now that we’ve moved to the three-middle offense, we’ve had a lot of people at the top of the kills," McDade said. "That’s what’s starting to happen. We’re starting to see contributions from everybody across the board, which is obviously what you want in a three-middle. It’s also what you want when you have as talented as a team at the net as we do."
As they’ve done for much of the season, the Black Tigers (0-11, 0-7) fought tooth and nail to keep rallies alive. In the end, though, Falls couldn’t slam the ball to the floor with nearly as much frequency as its high-flying opponents.
"I was proud that they didn’t give up," Wood said. "They fought until the end. That is the one thing with this team all season long even though we’ve had our ups and downs, is they fight. I’m proud to be their coach."
Gracie Lowe led the Black Tigers’ front row with a handful of kills. Falls, which lost to conference rival Nordonia 25-13, 25-12, 25-12 last Thursday at the Hugh Griffith Memorial Gymnasium in Macedonia, also got a strong serving performance from Braylon Arsenault.
"Gracie Lowe had a heck of a hitting game," Wood said. "She was banging the ball. I was so incredibly proud of her. Delaney Wood had some great saves."
The Bulldogs finished 0-3 at the Jackson Invitational last Saturday in Massillon. In Stow’s defense, three of its seniors did not attend due to ACT testing.
The Bulldogs lost to Wadsworth (25-12, 25-14), Alliance Marlington (25-10, 23-25, 25-22) and Louisville (18-25, 25-23, 25-18).
"Everybody else did a great job stepping up," McDade said. "It was not necessarily playing when they don’t normally get to play, but playing roles that they normally don’t get to play.
"They fought pretty much the whole day, which is what you want to see as a coach. No matter what six or seven people we have in the rotation on the floor, you want to see everyone compete."
Richards had five kills against the Grizzlies and Harris finished with 11 assists. Day led the back row with 10 digs and Natalie Fairchild and Sydney Braunscheidel added seven and five digs, respectively. Philpot and Dittman had two blocks apiece.
Richards registered eight kills against Marlington and Harris had 24 assists. Philpot and Dittman each had four blocks and Sydney Uridel contributed three aces. Day and Molly Haas kept many rallies alive with 15 digs apiece.
Against Louisville, Dittman led Stow with eight kills and five blocks. Harris added 23 assists and 14 digs and Fairchild also had 14 digs. Day finished with 11 digs.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.