by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Stow — They had everything going for them.
The Lady Blue Devils seemed to be in complete control during their Division II regional semifinal contest Oct. 31 at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.
And then, just like that, everything came apart.
The Tallmadge volleyball team’s magical postseason run came to an end after losing a 22-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-14 decision to Canfield.
With the loss, the Lady Blue Devils, who had eight seniors on the roster, finished 13-14 overall after posting a 4-1 record in the postseason. Canfield improved to 23-3.
“They’ve been awesome,” Tallmadge head coach Geoff Wagner said of his seniors.
“We struggled earlier in the season and I initiated a team meeting. The seniors took charge after that.”
It was Tallmadge’s first trip to Division II regional play since 2006.
While the Lady Blue Devils shocked a number of people with their stellar postseason, some may be wondering if their improbable journey concluded a bit too soon.
Tallmadge came out smoking to take the first set and had all the momentum when it built a comfortable 20-10 lead in the second set.
Instead, the Lady Blue Devils’ wonderful dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
The Lady Cardinals scored the next 11 points to take a 21-20 lead and finished the set by taking 15 of the final 16 points.
Although Tallmadge jumped out to an early 5-1 advantage in the third set, the 180-degree change of momentum remained on Canfield’s side.
The Lady Cardinals eventually took the lead for good at 9-7 on a Tallmadge hitting error and never looked back the rest of the way.
“I think experience had something to do with it,” Wagner said. “They’ve [the Lady Cardinals] been here before. Our ball control broke down and I think the girls got nervous. After we lost the second set, it was hard for the girls to get out of that emotional hole.”
Tallmadge certainly made its share of unforced errors. The Lady Blue Devils also had trouble with Canfield’s array of servers.
And if Tallmadge managed to return serve, the Lady Cardinals’ duo of senior outside hitter Sabrina Managapora and sophomore libero Janie Rafoth always had an answer.
The 6-foot-1 Managapora led Canfield with 14 kills, five blocks, 12 service points and six digs. Rafoth who got to just about every ball on this night, finished with a match-high 42 digs.
“We knew we had to worry about those two,” Wagner said. “They are two of the better players. They [the Lady Cardinals] also served a lot more aggressively once they got down in the second set.”
Nicole Luklan added five kills, 14 service points and 10 digs for Canfield. Also contributing for the Lady Cardinals was Janie Rafoth (20 assists and 24 service points).
Senior outside hitter Emma Mathieson led the Lady Blue Devils with 11 kills and senior libero Demi DeLorenzo had 27 digs.
Senior middle hitter Christa Wilk contributed three blocks and sophomore middle hitter Rachel Gardell finished with four aces for Tallmadge.
Lady Blue Devils’ first-year junior setter Karly Helmuth, who left the floor early in the fourth set because of a hip injury, had 26 assists.
“It was a hip flexor,” Wagner said. “Karly said she thought she heard something pop.”
Other seniors who concluded their careers for Tallmadge were right-side hitter Briana Burgan, defensive specialist/right-side hitter Kelsey Knutty, defensive specialist/outside hitter Morgan Stack, defensive specialist Katy Schubauer and outside hitter Meryl Wiebrecht.
“The district championship took place at Tallmadge High School,” Wagner said. “Since that was the case, the eight seniors won a championship in their last home match.”