CUYAHOGA FALLS — A little more than three weeks ago, the Cuyahoga Falls volleyball team had one of its most spirited efforts of the season.
Considering the fact that it took place against a heated rival made it even more enjoyable.
On Thursday, the Black Tigers hoped to be just as feisty and tenacious against a Hudson squad that has turned the corner this fall.
It didn’t work out that way. Not at all, as a matter of fact.
The Explorers earned a lopsided 25-8, 25-9, 25-11 victory over host Falls at Coach Tom Jones Court.
When the two teams met Sept. 10 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium, the Black Tigers showed their unbreakable will, thanks to some breathtaking defensive play in a 25-19, 25-12, 25-17 loss to Hudson.
This time, the Explorers (14-6, 7-5) took it to their struggling Suburban League National Conference rivals. For winless Falls, it was brutal in every sense of the word. Not that Hudson head coach Brad Disandis minded, of course.
"Our goal was just to focus and try to play as clean as we possibly could," he said. "We had to understand that they [the Black Tigers] were going to scrap for balls and we expected them to do what they did the last time. It was really just a challenge to the girls to stay locked in and focused and do the right stuff and we did."
As for Falls (0-19, 0-12), its enthusiasm and panache that had been so encouraging three weeks ago was nonexistent Thursday.
And Cuyahoga Falls head coach Lisa Wood was at a loss for words to explain why after the match.
"We just weren’t on like we were last time," she said sheepishly.
Life wasn’t exactly a picnic for the Explorers either. Prior to this fall, Hudson had not finished with a winning record since 2014.
While they have made major strides throughout the season, the Explorers took a couple steps backward prior to Thursday’s showdown.
Hudson suffered listless straight-set losses to Nordonia and Brecksville-Broadview Heights the previous week. The Explorers also had a not particularly satisfying three-set win against North Royalton two days earlier.
Therefore, a sense of urgency needed to return. Fortunately for Hudson, it did.
"The challenge for the girls was to not come here and be sloppy," Disandis said. "We wanted to clean up the things that we needed to clean up from the North Royalton match. We didn’t play cleanly; we didn’t have any fun. They weren’t playing with any kind of emotion against North Royalton.
"They had fun [Thursday] and they played with emotion. They just did the right stuff."
The evening started out peachy for the home team. The Black Tigers celebrated Volley for the Cure before the match and gave away free prizes in between each set.
"[Falls freshman coach] Courtney Marcucci coordinated everything," Wood said. "She did a phenomenal job. It was a great crowd. I’m so thankful for everyone who came."
The Black Tigers dedicated the match to Amber Bugaj, who is currently battling breast cancer. Ms. Bugaj is the mother of Falls’ junior varsity player Tana Zagar.
Unfortunately for the home fans, the boisterous cheers turned to stunned silence not long after the varsity match began.
The Explorers used their superior depth to distance themselves from their beleaguered opponents in each set.
While Hudson’s array of front-row strikers did their usual work, the Black Tigers had difficulty holding serve. Falls also made countless unforced errors that helped the Explorers pull away very quickly.
Hudson, on the other hand, had no such issues, thanks to contributions from a plethora of athletes.
Amelia Hoffemeier continued her stellar play in the back row with 20 digs and eight service points, including four aces.
Brooke Ramlow was her usual jack of all trades as she finished with 14 assists, 10 kills, nine service points, eight digs and three blocks.
Morgan Gaeta contributed eight service points, eight digs and five kills and Page Gross had 14 service points, including two aces, four kills and three blocks.
Allyson Yanak (four kills, two digs and a block), Hannah Savarino (six service points and two kills), Anna Faust (six digs and two aces), Erica Kutchin (two kills) and Ciera Kent (three digs) also shined for the Explorers.
Disandis has been particularly pleased with the play of freshmen Rylyn Dearstine and Melissa Hansen. Dearstine, a middle hitter, had six kills and two blocks and Hansen, a setter, contributed 16 assists and three digs.
Both first-year varsity standouts have been vital contributors throughout the fall.
"What great additions they are to our program along with Page moving in," Disandis said.
While it was a forgettable performance from Falls, it did get another strong effort from its back row. Katie Carrell and Kyleigh Boland each led the way with 10 digs. Abbey Rowan added nine digs and Kaelyn Staples finished with seven digs and three kills.
Braylon Arsenault contributed three kills and two blocks and Gracie Lowe added two kills and a block for the Black Tigers. Hope Cuppett also had two blocks for Falls.
Due to its dominance, Disandis was able to get a number of less-heralded players on the floor. That list included Kent, a senior spark plug who energized her teammates the moment she took her spot in the front row.
"She is one of our emotional leaders," Disandis said of Kent. "She keeps girls locked in and focused. She does a great job. She has been so supportive. We can’t do what we do without each one of them in the role that they play within the team.
"All of these kids come to practice and they work so hard whether they’re in the rotation or not. You can see how everybody responds when we get other girls on the floor because they all love each other. They want the best for each other."
The Explorers hope to make their first Sweet-Sixteen appearance since 2014. Whether that happens is anyone’s guess.
However, Disandis is certainly appreciating the journey. More importantly, he, along with his players, are enjoying each other’s company.
"This has been an amazing year with the way the kids have bonded," Disandis said. "They’re supportive of one another. They truly love each other. If we’re going to do special things, you have to love each other.
"Twelve out of 15 girls can’t love each other. All 15 have to love each other. They have to be supportive and they have to buy in what [Hudson assistant coach] Lee [Stoffl] and I are trying to do."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.