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CUYAHOGA FALLS --Stow-Munroe Falls boys volleyball couldn't have opened its playoff run in more dramatic fashion.
That said, the Bulldogs showed a lot of fight to advance to the regional final.
In its opening Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association playoff match, Stow fell behind by a set twice before rallying to win a five-set thriller 21-25, 27-25, 16-25, 25-21, 15-11 over Massillon Jackson. The match took place May 23 at Walsh Jesuit.
With the win, Stow (17-7) advanced to the final match in the OHSBVA North #2 Region, which was set for March 27 at Walsh. Stow was set to play the winner of the May 25 match between Brunswick and St. Edward. Results of these contests were not available at press time.
If victorious in the regional final, Stow would play in a state quarterfinal game June 3 at 10 a.m. at Capital University in Bexley.
Stow coach Matt Snyder said the Bulldogs' serving game wasn't working against the Polar Bears, taking away one of its best weapons.
In fact, Stow finished with 10 aces on the night, but also committed 23 service errors. Jackson had its issues on the service line as well, finishing with just four aces and 17 service errors.
"We're missing out on a lot of serves," Snyder said. "When we miss so many serves, it's hard to get to 25 points. They never gave up and found a way to get it done."
Jackson (10-12) gave the Bulldogs everything they could handle.
Stow was led by senior Hayden Baer, who finished with 26 kills on the night and hit at a .400 efficiency clip. The North Region player of the year also had two blocks and a team-high 20 digs. Stow finished with 55 digs on the night.
Baer said the match followed a recent trend for the Bulldogs.
"For some reason, we've been going slow to start recently," Baer said. "[Senior] Justin [Sibbel] and I know what we can do. We just wanted to make sure we got after it."
Stow seemed to be a bit out of sync to start the match, while Jackson had five different players score kills in the first set.
The Polar Bears took as 13-10 lead midway through the first set and never relinquished it, although Stow cut the lead to 21-20, forcing the Polar Bears to call timeout.
After the timeout, Jackson scored four of the next five points and a block by Jackson junior Ryan Bruss gave the Polar Bears the first set.
Stow seemed to be at its lowest point early in second set, as Jackson took a 7-1 lead to start the set.
With Stow trailing 12-6, Snyder called timeout and got after his players.
"That was more about energy and effort," Snyder said. "We talk about playing five seconds to the whistle and we just weren't doing it."
After the tongue lashing, Baer and Sibbel tried to take over the set.
An ace by Sibbel tied the second set at 17, while Stow picked up its aggression at the net.
The set ended in frantic fashion, as both teams fended off at least one set-point situation.
Down 25-24, Stow got a kill from Baer, a kill from Sibbel and thunderous kill from Baer to win the second set 27-25.
Snyder said he noticed a tactical switch from Jackson in the third set, where the Polar Bears attempted to double block Baer every chance they got, while pushing their defense back along the perimeter.
The move worked to perfection, as Jackson turned a 6-6 tie into a 19-9 lead.
Stow attempted the rally late, but the third set was clinched for the Polar Bears when Stow was called for a net violation on set point.
Facing elimination, Stow finally got off to a good start in set four. The Bulldogs took leads of 9-5 and 17-13, forcing Jackson to burn its timeouts early.
Stow never relinquished the lead and a service error by Jackson into the net sent the match to the fifth set.
In set five, Stow fell behind 3-1 early, but the serving of setter Wes Gray helped Stow take the lead for good.
Down 9-6, Jackson called timeout and cut the lead to 11-10, but three straight errors by the Polar Bears made it 14-10, giving Stow match point.
A kill from Jackson's Cole Riley fended off one match point, but Sibbel scored a kill off the block to give Stow the win.
Sibbel had 13 kills and led Stow with four blocks. Gray finished with 43 assists, while libero Jeremy Lundstrom had 14 digs for the Bulldogs.
Jackson was led by 16 kills from Riley.