St. Paul senior middle hitter had put down her third consecutive kill in a winner-take-all Game 5 against Monroeville on Thursday. She turned around and yelled to the ceiling as her team swarmed her in a packed and hot Harvey Keller Gymnasium in Norwalk.
“You get chills, and you’re celebrating with your team … it feels good to be a team at that point,” Hammersmith said. “We’ve always been a team, and have worked harder through the injuries. So to be in that moment, when you strive to be the best — it’s why you play.”
Hammersmith’s four straight points allowed St. Paul to an 8-3 lead, one that it rode out to a 15-8 victory to tie up the Firelands Conference standings with six league matches left.
St. Paul won Game 1, 25-23, only to see the Eagles win the next two games by identical 25-23 scores to take a 2-1 lead. Backed into a corner, the Lady Flyers then won Game 4, 25-21, and then the fifth game by seven points.
The Eagles (12-1, 7-1) and Lady Flyers (10-1, 7-1) both came into the match ranked among the top seven teams in Division IV, and just one loss between them — a four-game win by the Eagles in the season opener on Aug. 20 in Monroeville.
Thursday’s match also took two hours and 15 minutes to complete.
“It was a very well-played high school volleyball match with a lot of digs on both sides,” Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said.
Prior to a 14-8 lead by St. Paul in Game 4, neither team had led by more than five points — including not at all in the second and third games.
“It was a good feeling, and we just really kept it rolling from the end of Game 4,” Hammersmith said. “We were really up from there. We worked together and used our enthusiasm to keep us up.
“Nothing changed (from the 2-1 deficit),” she added. “They (Monroeville) are very good, and we just kept going back and forth and had to keep the momentum going into the fifth.
In Game 5, the host Lady Flyers trailed 2-1 — but never again. It was tied at 3, and while leading 4-3, it was Hammersmith navigating hits past the Monroeville block for three straight points at the net. She later served an ace for a 12-4 lead.
“Megan … a senior leader doing exactly what you want a senior to do in that spot,” St Paul coach Nancy Miller said.
An unforced error by the Eagles made it 9-4, then an out of bounds hit and a kill by Karlie Rudolph put St. Paul in complete control at 11-4. Hammersmith’s ace made it 12-4, and from there it was mostly trading points until Holly Powers rose up from the left side for the game and match-clinching kill.
Prior to Game 5, the two teams did nothing but exchange blows in a hot gym.
The Eagles were up 13-8 in Game 1, but St. Paul quickly responded to tie things up. The Eagles led 21-18 on a kill by Lydia Landoll, but the Lady Flyers again answered with three straight points.
Still, it was 22-21 in favor of the Eagles after a Graisyn Yoder kill. But a kill from Rudolph tied it, then an out of bounds hit by the Eagles put St. Paul ahead.
Stevi Ward put St. Paul ahead 24-22, then after a Landoll kill, Powers ended the match with a clean hit in bounds to give the Lady Flyers a 25-23.
Game 2 played out almost identical. This time, it was even tighter, as neither team led by more than two points at any point past 8-6 in the set. Trailing 22-21, Monroeville standout hitter Kylie Brooks put down a thunderous kill to tie it up, and an out of bounds hit against St. Paul put the Eagles up 23-22.
Powers briefly tied the match, but a well-placed lob by Camryn Hedrick found the floor to give the Eagles a 24-23 lead. St. Paul then again couldn’t keep a block inbounds to seal a 25-23 win by the Eagles.
The third game wasn’t quite a carbon copy of the first two games, but the end result was.
St. Paul trailed 22-18, only to pull within 22-21. An ace from Landoll looked like things were in hand at 24-21, only to see St. Paul score two more points for a 24-23 deficit. Finally, the Eagles’ Kelsie Palmer put the 25-23 win away with a hit for the 2-1 lead.
In Game 4, St. Paul never trailed — and jumped out to a 14-8 lead. It was 16-9 when the Eagles scored four straight to close within 16-13, but Hammersmith and Rudolph did enough up front to keep them from getting any closer than four points in the 25-21 win.
“Balls that we were scoring on in the first three or four games they were really digging up late,” Snook said of the late stages of Game 4 and all of the last game. They made some adjustments, and we also played much better defense in the first three games than we did in the last two.
“It was a good high school match between two very good programs, and I told the kids it’s OK not to be perfect,” she added. “Going into it No. 2 in the state and 12-0, I think there was a lot of hype about it. We’re not perfect, our record isn’t going to be perfect — and that’s OK. It shows the girls and our coaching staff that we have some improving to do.”
Brooks finished with 16 kills and four blocks to pace Monroeville. Hedrick had 37 assists, 15 digs, six kills and four blocks, while Yoder had 10 kills, two blocks and 21 digs. Landoll was 18 for 19 serving with an ace and seven kills, and Adrian Barman was 21 for 21 serving and had 30 digs.
Also for the Eagles, Palmer had nine kills and four blocks, and Braylee Wise was 14 for 15 serving with an ace and 19 digs.
“There are a lot of seniors and experience on this team, and I think they will come into practice and push themselves,” Snook said of her team. “They have big goals and they know it won’t be easy. Nothing is guaranteed, and sometimes you learn more from a loss than a win. Hopefully that’s what happens.”
For St. Paul, Powers had 19 kills. Hammersmith had 16 kills to go with nine points and there aces. Rudolph had 12 kills and Brooke Houck had 11. Dylian Knoll had 48 assists, 17 digs, and served 11 points with two aces.
Kennedy Stang finished with 42 digs, nine points and three aces, while Josie Skinn had 17 digs and Presley Stang had 15 digs.
“Kennedy, Presley, Josie were absolutely phenomenal on serve receive,” Miller said. “I think our level of conditioning and our level of athleticism kept us in it, and it allowed the girls to refocus. They were determined tonight. There was a push to just get it to a Game 5 and see what happens.
“It’s not the outcome, even though winning is awesome … it’s about us improving every time we step on the floor,” she added. “They beat us in four last time. We wanted to at least go to five. If they were going to beat us again, we wanted it to go the distance.”