St. Paul and Monroeville, longtime Firelands Conference rivals separated by six miles — and both ranked in the top 10 in the final Division IV state coaches poll — for a third time. Again.
No. 10-ranked St. Paul (20-4) dispatched St. Mary Central Catholic, 25-9, 25-14, 25-7, while No. 9 Monroeville (21-3) fought past Buckeye Central, 15-25, 25-19, 25-23, 26-24 in Division IV district semifinal action at Seneca East High School Monday night.
The victories set up a third meeting in Thursday's district championship at 7:30 p.m. back at Seneca East. It will mark the sixth district title meeting in a 10-year span between the two programs, with St. Paul winning this year’s regular season meetings in four and five games, respectively.
"Our two matches have been really good matches, and we have really had to fight for the two we won against them," St. Paul coach Nancy Miller said of facing Monroeville. "You know the old saying that it is hard to beat a team three times. We are really going to have to work that much harder."
The Lady Flyers made easy work of SMCC (11-12), trailing by a total of one point on the night.
"We were looking for the girls to go out aggressive and to start out strong," Miller said. "We want to work on some things that we have been working on in practice. I feel like we were getting a lot of touches on their hits."
St. Paul scored the first three points of the night and led 6-4 when the Lady Flyers went to work. St. Paul scored the next six points on the strength of balanced hitting.
The lead was 17-9 after an error, but the Lady Flyers ran off the last eight points, including kills from Holly Powers and Anna Lukasko to take the opening game.
"I think it is important for us to start out strong," Miller said. "We want to control the tempo of the game. I thought the girls did a great job of that. I thought there was a lot of fire out there."
SMCC won the first point of Game 2 off of a St. Paul error, but it was the only lead the Panthers held on the night. The Flyers scored the next six points after an ace from Lauren Chandler and a block by Megan Hammersmith.
St. Paul extended the lead to 12-3 after an ace from Hammersmith, prompting a timeout from SMCC coach Eveie Rhode. The Flyers consistently won points in bunches, pushing the lead to double digits after another Chandler ace. SMCC won three points in a row late in the game, but Megan Leibold put down an ace to win Game 2.
"I felt like we had good energy tonight," Miller said. "Our goal is to make this week the best week yet."
St. Paul asserted itself even more in Game 3. Hammersmith had two kills and a block as the Flyers won the first five points. Only a serving error by Dyllan Knoll stopped St. Paul, who then won the next nine points for a 16-1 lead.
The Panthers again won three points in a row late in the game, but they were no match for St. Paul. Leibold put down a block and a kill to finish off the win.
"I thought the girls did a nice job serving," Miller said. "It kept St. Mary out of system. In turn, we were getting a lot of easy balls from them."
Lukasko and Kamryn Maxwell each had 10 kills for the Flyers. Hammersmith added 15 assists, 12 points, nine kills, and three aces while Chandler served seven aces among her 19 points. Knoll tallied 22 assists and Kennedy Stang had 15 digs.
Monroeville 3, Buckeye Central 1
In the second match, Monroeville had to fight past a game Buckeye Central team that made the state semifinals last year.
The Eagles dropped Game 1 and trailed most of Game 2 before a late rally. The Bucks held a 16-13 lead, but the Eagles won the next four points to take a lead they did not relinquish.
Buckeye Central did get within 20-19, but three straight kills and a block from Kelsie Palmer gave the Eagles game point. Adrian Barman served up an ace to tie the match.
"We have been doing a lot of drills in practice since our Crestview match where we could not finish," Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said. "We have been doing a lot of drills in practice about finishing then about being able to come from behind."
Monroeville controlled a crucial Game 3 from start to finish, but not without a fight from the Bucks (17-7). The Eagles used a run of six straight points to seize a 12-5 lead. Monroeville consistently maintained a multiple-point lead until late in the game.
A kill by Eagles extended their lead to 24-18, but Buckeye Central was not done. A net violation by Monroeville jumpstarted a run of five straight points. Lexi Evak had two kills and a block in the run, but Kylee Brooks put down one of her 10 kills to stop the bleeding and give Monroeville the lead.
"It was a crucial Game 3," Snook said. "That is a lot of what we have been working on in practice is finishing. I could hear even the kids on the bench telling them to keep composed and finish."
Buckeye Central came out in Game 4 with even more energy, looking to push the match to a deciding fifth game. Monroeville took a 8-7 lead after a serving error from the Bucks, but Buckeye Central scored 11 of the next 13 points for a 18-10 lead.
"Lexi (Evak) is a great player," Snook said. "She can take over a match. We did not necessarily execute our game plan right away. Our block was out of position, our defense was out of position. Once we started doing that, we got a lot more touches on her."
Snook took her second and final timeout then and rallied the troops. Graisyn Yoder and Barman each put down a kill to get within 19-13. A block and kill by Palmer cut the lead to four.
Later, three straight points by the Flyers tied the game at 22. The game was also tied at 23 and 24 before a serving error by Buckeye Central and a kill from Maura Brown gave Monroeville the win.
"I told the girls that it was just like practice," Snook said. "We had to focus and take it one point at a time, build some momentum, and even if we did not get (Game 4), we had to build some momentum so we could get Game 5."
Palmer paced the Eagles with 13 kills and seven blocks. Barman had 18 digs and eight kills while Brown added eight kills. Stacia Stieber contributed 40 digs, Camryn Hedrick had 36 assists, Yoder tallied 11 digs, and Maddie Elmlinger had 10 digs.
"St. Paul for a third time," Snook said. "Same story, different year. It is a big rivalry week period with St. Paul. I think the kids will come ready to go. The gym will be electric."