In Division IV circles in Northwest Ohio, the yearly clashes between nearby Firelands Conference rivals St. Paul and Monroeville have produced some of the best — and longest matches and numerous conference and district championships teams.
Another chapter was added on Tuesday.
Down 2-1 in the match, it was St. Paul winning Game 4 (25-21), then it trailed 12-11 in Game 5 before scoring the final four points in a 15-12 comeback win to take command of the FC race.
Monroeville won Games 1 and 3 by identical 25-22 scores, while St. Paul took Game 4 by a 25-20 margin.
St. Paul — ranked No. 8 in the latest Div. IV state coaches poll — improved to 11-1 overall and 9-0 in the FC. Monroeville — ranked No. 6 — fell to 12-2, 7-2. Both losses were in four and five games to the Lady Flyers.
Trailing 10-8 in Game 5, there was some self-challenging taking place in a St. Paul timeout — by players and 500-win coach Nancy Miller.
“We won because of our determination — and we had to push each other a little bit,” senior hitter Kamryn Maxwell said. We had to have a focus and mindset to win. We had to settle down, take a deep breath and focus in on what we’re trying to do.”
St. Paul had let an 8-5 lead in the fifth game slip away, as the Eagles got a lob over the net from Camryn Hedrick, and a kill from Kelsie Palmer to pull within 8-7. The Eagles took the lead on a St. Paul hitting error, and a net violation made it 10-8 in favor of the Monroeville.
“I think once we got down 10-8, I just think the girls dug in,” Miller said. “They believed they could do it, and when it was 10-8 — I saw that look on their faces … they just dug in and went after it.”
Tied at 10-10, Kylee Brooks put down a strong kill to give the Eagles an 11-10 lead. A big block at the net by St. Paul’s Danielle Smith and Holly Powers tied it back up, but Palmer again gave the Eagles the 12-11 lead.
Powers tied it up with a kill of her own, then Monroeville made a pair of unforced errors in four hits, and a double-hit to give St. Paul a 14-12 lead.
With St. Paul looking to serve out the match, the two teams went back and forth four times — but an out of bounds hit by the Eagles sealed the win for the Lady Flyers.
“We had to keep pushing through — I know this team is good under pressure,” said Maxwell, who finished with 11 kills and 32 digs. “We just fought for it. It was a matter of pushing through. But down 2-1, I wasn’t doubting our team at all.”
With the match tied at 1-1, the third game was tight throughout. Monroeville took a 22-20 lead on a kill by Brooks, and extended it to 24-21 with a Maura Brown hit.
But after winning the third game to go up 2-1, the Eagles fell behind 16-5 in Game 4. St. Paul got on a hot streak with Lauren Chandler serving, and got timely hitting at the net from Megan Hammersmith and Anna Lukaso.
But the Eagles surged back, pulling within 20-18 and 22-20. But the Lady Flyers were able to put the game away and force the winner-take-all scenario.
“We did a nice job coming back at the end of that fourth game from 11 down,” Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said. “The fact that my kids kept fighting, I actually thought we had a lot of momentum going into Game 5.
“It just came down to way too many hitting and serving errors,” she added. “And in a tight match like that when you’re talking two or three points as the difference every single game — every point counts. We talk to our kids about being aggressive and being confident — but we just made a few too many mistakes tonight.”
Miller had a similar view of her team throughout the five games.
“I just felt like right from the start we were playing tentative and weren’t being aggressive enough as a whole,” she said. “We had aggressive little spots. Megan attacked the ball very well, but I don’t think we were being aggressive across the board. I constantly nag at them to play to win, not to play not to lose.”
And when St. Paul saw an 8-5 lead become a 10-8 deficit in Game 5, Miller said her team was sitting on its collective heels and not being aggressive.
“There was way too much tipping going on, and we were not commanding the ball and taking control of it,” Miller said. “We were giving them back an easy ball, and when you play a good team, they’re going to capitalize — and that’s what Monroeville did.”
Hammersmith finished with 20 kills, 23 assists and served 10 points with an ace for St. Paul, which visits Crestview (12-4, 7-2) on Thursday. Lukasko added eight kills, while freshman Sarah Matlack, who had a big Game 2, had 10 kills.
Also for St. Paul, Chandler had 10 points and 18 digs, Kennedy Stang had 28 digs and Dyllan Knoll added 27 assists.
“It doesn’t get old with these two teams … it’s a great match for both teams,” Miller said. “But to be down 2-1 and down in Game 5 — just really proud of the fight tonight.”
For Monroeville, Brooks had 15 kills and five blocks, while Graisyn Yoder had 16 kills, and Palmer finished with 11 kills and five blocks.
Hedrick had 47 assists, while Stacia Stieber had 40 digs and was 23 for 25 serving with two aces. Adrian Barman added 26 digs, and Maddie Elmlinger had 15.
Monroeville visits New London on Thursday, but then travels to No. 10-ranked Mohawk (12-1) on Saturday and Div. II No. 12 ranked Bellevue (13-2) on Monday.
“It’s a tough stretch, but a real good stretch for us for this point of the season,” Snook said. “We obviously made a lot of progress from the third match of the season with them (St. Paul) to tonight.
“For this time of the year, that’s good,” she added. “It’s what the kids need to compete, and that takes nothing away from what I feel is a very competitive Firelands Conference this year. It’s going to challenge us and get us ready for the tournament.”