LISBON - Having won just one prior Inter-Tri County League upper tier volleyball match this season, East Palestine wasn't looking for any surprises against Lisbon on Tuesday.
It got just that though when the team walked on the court to find that Lisbon had a player they have not seen before on the roster.
"I thought 'Holy cow, she's tall,'" East Palestine coach Denise Pickett said. "It's definitely an intimidation factor. She would be an asset to any team in the league."
Who Pickett was referring to is 6-foot-2 junior middle hitter Paulina Stoellger of Hanover, Germany. Stoellger is spending the semester studying at Lisbon High School as part of a foreign exchange student program. She joined the team two weeks ago after getting clearance from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
While the Bulldogs were a little taken a back by the play of the Lisbon newcomer, they prevailed in a 25-21, 25-18, 25-23 victory.
Stoellger, who said she has played volleyball for six years, was taking the place of Lisbon's top attacker Kenadee Pezzano who is out with mono. She responded with a season-high 13 kills and six blocks.
"We're at a point with Kenadee out where we just had to rotate her right in," Lisbon coach Cara Hardenbrook said. "She played really well tonight."
Stoellger said one of the main differences between volleyball in the United States and in Germany is the energy level. She said her team in Germany only does elaborate celebrations after "really awesome points." Here there's always some sort of big cheer after just about every point.
"The team spirit here is much greater," Stoellger said. "Everyone is really motivated and it's a lot more fun than the matches in Germany."
Stoellger, who is hosted by the McNeal family, said she is enjoying her time in Lisbon. She's mainly here to work on her English and experience a new culture.
"Everyone has been so friendly," Stoellger said. "I'm not really missing home that much."
Stoellger said she has been approached by the basketball team, but since she does not play the sport is unsure whether she'll take up the offer. In any sense, she's due to leave to go back to Germany on Jan. 20 - well before the basketball season ends.
In the meantime, East Palestine improved to 6-11 and 2-9 in the league. Lisbon dropped to 6-13 and 1-10.
"There have been a lot of highs and lows this season," Pickett said. "A lot of the teams in the league are very evenly matched and a lot of matches are regularly going four or five games."
Jackson-Milton took control of the league title race with a five-set win over Springfield on Tuesday. The Bluejays are 14-2 and 11-0 in the league. Second-place Springfield (12-5, 9-2) is now two back. The Bluejays can clinch a share with a win at United on Thursday.
"The main difference between Jackson-Milton and the rest of the league is that they have nice hitters all the way around. The rest of us just have one or two strong hitters and when they rotate to the back it's tough on us," Pickett said.
East Palestine was led by Carley Sansenbaugher's eight kills, 16 blocks and 12 digs. Megan Brown added eight assists. Rachel Monteleone had six kills. Logan Gatchel had 10 points and Emily Duncan recorded nine points. East Palestine hosts Springfield on Thursday.
For Lisbon, Tiffany Ketchum had five kills and 15 digs. Taylor Siefke had five blocks and 10 points. Ana Sanor had 20 assists. Lisbon is at Mineral Ridge on Tuesday.