Even for this rivalry.
The Monroeville-St. Paul volleyball rivalry delivered another epic match on Thursday in a Division IV district championship at the Willard Middle School.
The two state powers played a five-game thriller — won by Monroeville — for the second time this season and the seventh time in 10 years.
The Eagles — ranked No. 4 in the state coaches poll — were initially in control. They won the first two games, 25-21, 25-19. Even when the No. 7-ranked Lady Flyers won Game 3, 25-18, Monroeville still held a 20-13 lead looking for five points to close out Game 4.
But St. Paul was able to storm back for a wild 28-26 win, and raced out to an 8-4 lead in the decisive fifth game. And just like that, the powerful hitters for the Eagles gathered themselves and finished off the match with 11 of the next 14 points for the 15-11 win.
Monroeville (24-1) advanced to next week’s regional semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday at Uniontown Lake High School. The Eagles await the winner of Wellsville-New Middletown Springfield, who play at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon in Columbiana.
“It’s intense,” said Monroeville senior hitter Maura Brown, who was big at the net with 15 kills and three blocks. “There is so much … not pressure, but intensity with the crowd. And we’re both Firelands Conference teams and rivals. It’s going to be a tough match, you know that every single time.”
An ace by Monroeville’s Lydia Landoll — who was an impressive 31 for 31 serving with seven aces — put the Eagles up 20-13 in Game 4. It seemed a formality at that point, but then St. Paul setter Dylian Knoll flung a lob across the far left side of the net that landed in bounds for a point.
Behind senior Kennedy Stang at the service line, the Lady Flyers made an impressive run of eight straight points to suddenly go up 22-20.
But just when it appeared St. Paul had assured itself of a Game 5 — leading 24-21 — the Eagles came roaring back in their own right.
A combined block from Brown and standout Kylee Brooks made it 24-23, and Brooks tied it up at 24 with a kill moments later. Brooke Houck countered for St. Paul, only for Brown to answer with a big hit to tie it again at 25, then she put the Eagles ahead serving for match point at 26-25.
But again the Lady Flyers found a way. Megan Hammersmith had a clean hit for a kill, and then back-to-back out of bounds hits from the Eagles gave St. Paul the 28-26 win.
“Stang really hurt us serving,” Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said. “That’s who was back making that run in Game 4, and she got off to a great start for them in Game 5 — and she hurt us in Game 3. She’s a heck of a player and did a really nice job.”
In Game 5, Stang was again serving with a 2-1 lead when Hammersmith put down a kill and lobbed over a ball that found the floor for a 4-1 lead. It was 6-2 on an ace by Stevi Ward, and still 8-4 in favor of the Lady Flyers after an out of bounds hit.
But then the match swung.
Palmer and Landoll found open holes that St. Paul couldn’t return, and a lob that was well-placed by setter Camryn tied the match at 9-9. The Lady Flyers then were unable to get a lob back over the net, though the Eagles gave it right back on a serve into the net to tie it at 10-10.
But the powerful hitting of Kelsie Palmer and Brooks was rotated back to the front row after a Palmer kill for an 11-10 lead. She made it 12-10, and Brooks added to the lead at 13-10.
Leading 14-11, Brooks then lobbed the ball over two St. Paul defenders to clinch the match.
“Monroeville served the ball very strong and they are big up front,” St. Paul coach Nancy Miller said. “That definitely hurt us down the stretch of Game 5.”
Snook admitted she was disappointed her team was unable to close out Game 4 — but was pleased to see her team show some resolve in the fifth game.
“We work every night on coming from behind in practice,” she said. “But I told them just because we do it in practice doesn’t mean I want them to show me they can do it in a big match.
“But they handled it well and have a lot of fight,” Snook added. “It was more my captains saying we can do this (in the fifth game). We talked about playing one play at a time and staying calm. A big kill isn’t worth three points, it’s just one point. Play to win, not to lose. A lot of different kids in key times stepped up.”
For Monroeville, Brooks finished with 14 kills and four blocks, with Palmer adding 13 kills and a block. Hedrick finished with 47 assists, 14 digs, eight kills and was 19 for 19 serving.
“It never fails,” Snook said of the rivalry matches with St. Paul. “You have two of the top teams in the state playing. I even told the kids in the huddle it was a shame anyone had to lose, because I honestly believe we are two of the best teams in the state. It just happens that we always have to meet at the district.
Adrian Barman led the defense with 40 digs, and was 18 for 18 serving with four aces. Landoll added 13 digs, while Graisyn Yoder had 35 digs and seven kills.
St. Paul was led by Hammersmith’s 19 kills at the net, with Powers adding 13. Stang served 19 points with four aces and 32 digs, while Knoll had 42 assists to go with nine points and four aces. Josie Skinn added 30 digs and had nine points with two aces.
Hammersmith, Stang, Powers, Sydney Herner, Anna Lukasko and Libby Dvorak were seniors for the Lady Flyers.
“I’m just so proud of our kids for putting us in this position of playing in a fifth game in a district championship,” Miller said. “I’m not sure if you asked me if we’d be here at the end of August if I would have thought it.
“Hammersmith, Powers and Stang have been facets on our floor for three years,” she added. “They will truly be missed, but it’s not just the seniors on the floor. The leadership that Anna, Sydney and Libby have demonstrated and shown all year has been invaluable to those younger kids. I’m just so proud that we were here, fought and pushed it to five after being down 2-0. I think it’s at testament to their ability that is there.”