BOARDMAN - Salem coach Don Conser didn't get to where he is without knowing a thing or two. One thing he knew was Hubbard was going to put up a fight in the Division II district semifinals at Boardman High School on Monday.
"I knew beating Hubbard wouldn't be easy," he said after his Quakers turned away the Eagles in three sets. "I also knew whoever won that first game was going to have an advantage and would go on to win the match."
That first set was an epic one. The Quakers and the Eagles battled to a 32-30 final with Salem coming out on top. Hubbard had Salem on the ropes a few times in the opening set, needing just one for match point but couldn't deliver the knockout punch. Instead, it was the Quakers who finally got the points needed to end it.
"A point here, a play there and it's a different outcome," Hubbard coach Chuck Montgomery said. "Our girls played them tough in that first game and it could have gone either way. Unfortunately, Salem won, and give them credit. They came up with some big plays. Once we got behind, we couldn't turn things around. We don't have six-foot blockers and can't put the ball down like they do. We have to work more for our points and when you fall behind to a team like Salem, it's hard to catch up."
Salem's big hitters Cassie Davidson and Alexis Smith led the way. Davidson had a team-high 18 kills and 26 dig,. Davidson added 10 kills, 23 digs and an ace. Kayleigh Null added 23 assists. Katherine Stiff came up with 22 assists. Lindsey Foster had two aces, 11 kills and three blocks.
For Hubbard, Emily Perry had 14 kills and 15 digs. Katelyn Evans had 10 kills, nine digs and three aces. Marquette Gasser chipped in 36 assists. Meghan DeMalio added eight blocks.
The Eagles stayed after Salem, playing the Quakers close in the second set, 25-22. Salem took the third, 25-18.
"I had no doubt that (the Eagles) were going to keep fighting," Conser said. "I know Chuck and he doesn't like to lose anymore than I do. Hubbard is scrappy bunch and a very skillful team. The only thing that changed from the first set to the last was that our girls gained a little more confidence, but it's always a battle when we play Hubbard, and it was a battle until the end again tonight."
Montgomery, who announced that he will retire at the end of this season after a 40-year career, agreed.
"We're probably the top two programs around here," he said. "It seems like we always meet here in the districts and it's always a good game. I know all about Salem volleyball. I graduated from Salem. I grew up on Prospect Street. I'm a Hubbard guy now, but I wish Coach Conser and his girls nothing but luck against Canfield."
The Quakers will face the Cardinals on Thursday. Canfield defeated Southeast (25-15, 25-15, 25-17) in other district semifinal to earn the spot opposite Salem.. Both the Quakers (24-1) and the Cardinals (23-1) have just one loss on the season.
"It won't be any easier for us on Thursday, that's for sure," Conser said. "Canfield is a very good team. We look forward to playing them."