STOW — The first set was shaky.
The rest was masterful.
No. 6 Roosevelt shook off an early deficit Wednesday for a 22-25, 25-8, 25-14, 25-13 victory over No. 11 Cuyahoga Falls in the opening round of the Division I Stow playoffs.
“I think we just kind of get nervous the first set,” Rough Riders junior middle Andrya Hanmore said. “It’s always the first set, we always get nervous, and then we settle.”
“It’s like a roller coaster at first,” Roosevelt senior hitter Kiera Ashburn said. “Then, we adjust.”
“Adjust” was putting it mildly as the Rough Riders turned their night around in a hurry. After starting the first set behind 12-6, they stormed to a 9-1 lead in the second.
“I think we were nervous and I think it was read in our face and our body language,” Roosevelt coach Tracy Reschke said. “We talked about standing taller, our shoulders being broader and that when we come out the second set, it just starts with our mouths, talking more, we needed to be motormouths. Anything that we saw on the court, we were just going to say it, so that we lost ourselves in the game.”
In the opening stanza, Black Tigers hitters like junior Kaelyn Staples and senior Olivia Lemmon ran free.
In the second set, the Rough Riders block was consistently in the right spot, led by Hanmore, senior middle Anaya Croston and junior setter Faith Kaminski.
“We moved our block in and they did a nice job of not drifting out to the antenna,” Reschke said. “They kept the block in, which gave our middles, whether it was Andrya or Taylor (Dunlap) or Anaya, the chance to close the block. I think we did a really nice job of closing the block.”
As the Roosevelt defense took control — also led by the steady sophomore libero Megan Moser (14 digs) — the hitting gathered steam.
Early in the second set, it was Ashburn taking a back set from Kaminski and dumping a spike into the middle for a 2-0 lead. Then, it was Ashburn and Hanmore on the block for a 3-0 edge.
Up 3-1, junior outside hitter Jillian Hanna (24 digs, 12 kills) bumped to Kaminski, who gave it right back to Hanna, who launched a kill from the back. Leading 4-1, Hanmore (10 kills, 10 blocks) and Kaminski came up with a key block at the net — and Kaminski capped the point with a flick. On the next point, it was Kaminski and Hanmore again, with Hanmore executing a perfect slide to the right antenna for a 6-1 lead.
As the match went on, the Rough Riders flourished behind limitless weapons, like sophomore Maya Sheller (8 kills) who sent back-to-back spikes off the block for a 9-1 lead. Up 13-4, Croston sparked another run with a soft spike to the middle of the defense, followed by back-to-back Hanna kills, the first so hard it was bumped to the Cuyahoga Falls bench, the second pinning the back right corner.
In the third set, Sheller gave the Rough Riders an early lead with a give-and-go, so to speak, with Kaminski. Ashburn followed with an ace and Hanmore took over, including a cross-court spike to go up 14-5.
When Cuyahoga Falls threatened early in the fourth, rallying from 5-2 to 6-5, Hanna responded with a spike off the block and Hanmore notched back-to-back aces as Roosevelt ran away once more.
Weapon after weapon stepped to the forefront.
Ashburn (9 digs, 4 kills) continued to thrive after missing much of last season due to the transfer rule.
“In the beginning, it was hard adjusting,” Ashburn said. “I had to adjust to playing with my team for the first time and eventually I just came in with the rhythm and caught fire.”
Freshman Taylor Dunlap also excelled Wednesday, including the game-clinching spike to the back right corner.
All set up by a flurry of well-placed sets by Kaminski (43 assists).
“She’s just steady and as a setter that’s exactly what I’m looking for, somebody that really doesn’t get unnerved,” Reschke said. “She knows that I’m hard on her and she takes it and she takes everything and puts it into a positive direction.”
Which is exactly what the Rough Riders did Wednesday — taking a rough start and putting it in a positive direction.
“I think that once they lost that idea of what was happening nerve-wise and they just started playing like they had been all year, I think that was the biggest difference,” Reschke said.
For Cuyahoga Falls (0-23), that’s the key moving forward.
With just four seniors compared to seven juniors and four sophomores, the Black Tigers need to lose the jitters.
“(We’re) very young,” Cuyahoga Falls coach Lisa Wood said. “Hopefully, when we come back next year and they play next year, they’ve already had that varsity experience so we can get over some of those jitters.
“When you move from JV to varsity, it’s a whole different world and I think some of them need to get over those jitters of playing and hopefully we’ll be able to make a run.”