STOW — Like most people, Hudson head girls volleyball coach Brad Disandis enjoys Halloween.
He just didn’t expect to see the ghouls and goblins so early.
For Disandis, seeing his team’s main rival for the third time this season certainly gave him the creeps.
"It was very scary," Disandis said with a smile.
Fortunately, the Explorers survived their unexpected haunted house. As for the members of the Stow-Munroe Falls girls volleyball squad, what might have been could haunt them for a long time.
Top-seeded Hudson advanced to Division I district play after earning a hard-fought 19-25, 25-20, 29-27, 25-21 victory over host Stow-Munroe Falls. The Stow Division I sectional title contest took place Thursday at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
With the win, the Explorers are scheduled to play fourth-seeded Uniontown Green in a district semifinal match next Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The Bulldogs (7-17), who entered the match as the eighth seed, lost to Hudson twice in convincing fashion during the regular season.
That sure wasn’t the case Thursday.
A fired-up Stow squad stunned its Suburban National Conference rival with a dominant performance in the first set. The Bulldogs continued to put the pedal to the metal in the second set as they blasted their way to a 6-0 lead.
"It’s a rivalry and we’re in their gym," Disandis said. "Everybody realizes that the lights are on and you could be one and done. If you lose, you go home; if you win, you keep going."
In the end, the Explorers (17-6), who clinched their first winning season since 2014, simply had too much firepower.
Hudson dodged a set point in the third set and then made all the plays down the stretch to close out the match in the fourth set.
While Bulldogs head coach Liz McDade couldn’t hide her disappointment, the former Stow libero had nothing but appreciation for her players.
Yes, Stow, which has been a perennial area power in recent years, struggled throughout the fall. However, the Bulldogs played some of their best volleyball when it mattered most.
"I think it was a little bit of a moral victory in the sense that the first two times we played them, it was not anywhere that close," McDade said. "It was not anywhere that good of volleyball.
"We talked a lot about we had to control what we can control. We had to have a lot of energy. "The product was coming out at the very beginning of game one and game two, going on those big runs. And then not losing steam when they started coming back."
Stow proved it would be a formidable opponent right from the beginning.
Thanks to strong serving, stellar defense and powerful hitting, the Bulldogs had the Explorers in total disarray as the home team built a shocking 21-9 lead.
"I don’t think we were caught off-guard," Disandis said. "I just think we got really complacent. We were really tentative to start the game. They [the Bulldogs] have some kids who can play. They’re scrappy and they fight. It didn’t matter what happened in those first two games."
Hudson found its footing a bit to make the rest of the set competitive, but Stow didn’t allow its archrival to breathe in the second set.
Nevertheless, the Explorers, who looked a bit discombobulated early, got their mojo back and after a hitting error by the Bulldogs, rallied all the way back to take an 11-10 lead.
The rest of the match remained nip and tuck the rest of the way as both teams fought for their lives on every point.
Hudson’s ability to close in the latter two sets proved to be the difference.
With the score tied at 27 in the third set, junior setter/outside hitter Brooke Ramlow crushed a pair of kills to give the Explorers a two-sets-to-one lead.
Junior outside hitter Morgan Gaeta did the honors in the fourth set as she put matters to rest when she crushed a kill on match point.
"Obviously at the end, it didn’t go our way," McDade said. "I felt like the first couple of times we played Hudson, we were on our heels our lot. We weren’t really bringing a lot to the table in terms of an offense; we weren’t in system.
"[Thursday], we did a much, much better job of that. We were clearly attacking from the very beginning. We couldn’t just capitalize on enough opportunities to bring it home."
Hudson also made an impact with its impenetrable defense in the closing stages of the match. Senior libero Amelia Hoffmeier kept a rally alive with a 30-plus foot dig to keep a rally alive. Ramlow also crashed the stands to give the Explorers an unlikely chance to swing away. By the way, Hudson won both of those points.
"It kind of what makes us who we are," Disandis said. "Amelia drives all that. That kind of desire and the heart that she has … it’s so infectious to everybody else. She’s able to will us to do things like that."
Hoffmeier finished with 44 digs and 10 service points. Ramlow added 21 assists, 10 kills, nine digs and eight service points, including three aces.
Gaeta contributed 22 digs and 16 kills and sophomore defensive specialist Anna Faust had 23 digs and 14 service point for the Explorers.
Also contributing for Hudson were freshman setter Melissa Hansen (24 assists and 14 digs), sophomore middle hitter Page Gross (10 kills, five blocks and two digs), sophomore outside hitter Allyson Yanak (six kills and two blocks) and freshman middle hitter Rylyn Dearstine (five kills).
Senior outside hitter Ryleigh Schelien led Stow with 23 digs, 11 kills, three aces and two blocks and senior outside hitter Samantha Croyle had 13 digs, seven kills, five blocks and an ace for the Bulldogs.
Sophomore setter Olivia Harris had 41 assists and an ace and senior outside hitter Molly Richards contributed 16 kills for Stow.
McDade said goodbye to Schelien, Croyle, Hannah Seckinger, Richards and seniors Kira Philpot, Molly Haas and Sara Day.
"I couldn’t even talk very much," McDade said. "I told them, especially after the season we had, I’m so proud of the fight that they showed. They never gave up. That’s really all you can ask.
"Obviously, when you have seven seniors as talented as we do, we weren’t able to use a lot of the other people. I’m definitely excited for the future of the program next year."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.