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Over the past few weeks, Cuyahoga Falls volleyball coach Josh Stewart has noted his team might be regressing, and not progressing.
That's a recipe for disaster, especially in a league as loaded as the Suburban League National Conference.
The Black Tigers suffered a pair of defeats to National Conference foes this week, beginning with a 25-10, 25-17, 24-26, 31-29 at Nordonia Oct. 4.
Falls then came home Oct. 6 to face archrival Stow-Munroe Falls, but the Bulldogs scored a 27-25, 25-23, 25-18 win.
Falls record dropped to 6-14, 1-11 in the National Conference.
Against Nordonia, Stewart said the Black Tigers were able to get going as the match went on.
"Started off playing the way we've been playing for a while, which has been bad," Stewart said. "Our bench was able to manufacture some energy for game three and turned it around. The same for game 4, except we ran out of subs and made a few errors late."
Senior Emma Freeman led Falls with 13 kills and 21 digs, while setter Nicole Bechter had 18 assists. Libero Morgan Frame added 21 digs.
The Black Tigers came out firing Oct. 6 against Stow, buoyed by a large crowd that turned out in pink for "Volley for the Cure" night in support of breast cancer research.
Stow was playing its third match in as many nights. The Bulldogs looked very flat out of the gates and were without outside hitter Julia DiPaola, who was out with a sprained ankle.
"In game three, on Tuesday we figured some stuff out," Stewart said. "We watched film on Wednesday and saw a couple of holes. Not having Julia helped us, because it made it easier for us to play defense."
"We were a little tentative at the start," said Stow coach Miguel Ramirez. "We're playing our third game in as many days. We've only had two practices in the last week and it showed."
Led my Freeman's hitting, Falls took a big early lead, running out to a 12-4 lead before Stow started coming back.
"We haven't been in that position a lot this year," Stewart said. "We still need to work on finishing."
Stow slowly reeled Falls in before tying the first set at 22-22 on a kill from Lauren Turschak.
To its credit, Falls fought off a pair of set points for Stow, but the Bulldogs took the first set at 27-25 when the officials ruled a Falls' kill attempt went outside the antenna.
Set two was a much tighter affair, though Freeman again helped Falls take the early lead.
With DiPaola down, Stow got a major lift from junior Kendall Feldman, who stepped into the outside hitter role. Feldman answered the call with seven kills on the night, four of which came in the second set.
"We're a pretty deep team this year," Ramirez said. "It's a 'next woman up' thing. I don't think we could have sustained an injury in previous years and just kept going."
Stow primary hitter on the night sophomore Lizzy Stefanov, who seemed to swing with more aggression after not getting a kill call midway through the second set.
Stefanov led Stow with 10 kills.
Stefanov's kill gave Stow a lead at 23-22 and set two went to the Bulldogs when Falls' Tylir Saxon.
Unlike the first two sets, Stow raced out to a 6-0 lead in set three off a block from Maria Cistone, forcing Stewart to call timeout.
Falls never got close to the lead in the set, however, thanks to good serving by Stow.
Falls could not return a wicked drop serve from Stow's Claire O'Verko on match point, giving Stow the match.
Freeman led all players with 16 kills, while Frame had 23 digs. Setter Rebecca Postlewaite led Falls with 18 assists.
Stow setters Lauren Fair and Jacy Guider each had seven assists. Libero Alyssa Tallarico had 19 digs, while Cistone had three blocks.
Falls will close out the regular season this week with two National Conference games. Falls travels to North Royalton Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. before hosting Twinsburg Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m.