by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Hudson -- Since it joined the Northeast Ohio Conference Lake Division in 2011, the Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball team has set the standard for greatness.
The Lady Bulldogs' chances of a third straight Lake Division title were dashed after losing a 25-18, 25-14, 25-14 decision to Hudson Oct. 9 at Hudson High School's Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
With the loss, Stow, which shared the title with Hudson last year and won it outright in 2011, dropped to 7-11 overall and 6-3 in the division.
The Lady Explorers improved to 15-6 overall and 8-1 in the division. As of press time, Hudson and Mentor were tied atop the Lake Division standings.
The Lady Explorers were scheduled to visit Lake Division rival Twinsburg and Mentor was set to host the Lady Bulldogs Oct. 10. Results of those matches were not available at press time.
A win assures Hudson's second consecutive title. A Lady Explorers' victory and a Stow win over Mentor assures Hudson an outright championship.
"We'll be rooting for Stow," Lady Explorers' senior middle hitter Krissy Mummey said after the win.
Hudson also beat the Lady Bulldogs in four sets earlier in the season. The two teams split their meetings last year.
But Stow got the last laugh when it eliminated the Lady Explorers in district play.
Such a meeting could take place again as both teams are participating in the Stow-Munroe Falls sectional-district tournament.
Hudson is the top seed in the tournament and Kent Roosevelt, Canfield and Stow got the second, third and fourth seeds, respectively.
Whether the two teams meet again is anyone's guess. Right now, the Lady Explorers have the significant edge over their main rivals.
"I was really proud of my girls, especially since we were able to get everyone in the match," Hudson head coach Jessica Ciborek said. "We had all three seniors on the court in the end. We wanted to come out and dominate and to show them [the Lady Bulldogs] that we deserve to win in three on our home court."
Hudson trailed 5-3 in the first set before rallying. The Lady Explorers never trailed again after that, thanks to the explosive combination of Mummey, senior outside hitter Celia Cristofoli and junior middle hitter Jordan Mackay.
The trio had their way at the net throughout the evening. If they weren't putting away thunderous kills, they were blocking Stow's spikes.
Mummey finished with a match-high 12 kills and three blocks. Cristofoli also had three blocks. Mummey, Cristofoli and Georgia Lindner were honored on Senior Night prior to the match.
"Stow is always a big game for us," Mummey said. "I am really proud that we were able to make it happen."
The Lady Bulldogs will have some work to do if they want to make some noise in tournament play.
While Stow had its moments, the Lady Bulldogs made a number of hitting errors during the match, which killed any chance of gaining some momentum.
"The bottom line is they're the better team than we are," Stow head coach Miguel Ramirez said. "We need to play better. Hudson is a great team."
Lindner believes the players' strong chemistry has been vital to the Lady Explorers' success.
"We're a family," she said. "All of us are very close and the underclassmen have been very supportive. It has been really special."
If there was any indication that Hudson wasn't going to be denied, it took place early in the third set.
Trailing 5-2, Stow appeared to have the point won when a dig from the Lady Explorers' back row went toward the seats.
But Cristofoli raced toward the bleachers and somehow kept the ball alive despite coming close to banging her shins on the front-row bleachers.
Moments later, Hudson setter Amanda Przybocki set the ball to Mummey, who scored the point with a thunderous kill.
"I know where the bleachers are, but not that well," Cristofoli said. "I was looking up at the ball and sprinting and I was thinking, 'This is going to be awesome or I'm going to kill my shins.'"
Such an effort was a pleasant view for Ciborek, who has urged her team to focus on its defense throughout the season.
"Our defense and hustle is 110 percent better than in the past two years," she said. "We have been practicing really hard with high tempo. Every practice has been high intensity and that showed in that play."
Gina Holland had a strong all-around match for Hudson with 14 points, including two aces, and 20 digs. Przybocki finished with 31 assists.
Jessica Guider led the Lady Bulldogs with six kills and Madison Baer had five kills. Also contributing for Stow were Lu Conrad (12 assists) and Kelsey Steiger (five digs).
This was the final scheduled home match for the Lady Explorers.
One of Hudson's seniors, on the other hand, is convinced her team has at least one more match at Buck Hyser Gymnasium.
"It's our last match at home until regionals," Mummey said.
Hudson High School is the site of a Division I regional tournament.
The Lady Explorers, who earned an opening-round bye, is scheduled to play the Nordonia-Youngstown East winner in a sectional title match Oct. 19 at 1 p.m.
The Lady Bulldogs also earned a first-round bye and are set to play the Canfield-Walsh Jesuit winner in a sectional final Oct. 19 at 2:30 p.m.