Volleyball: East Ridge's season comes to an end at section finals
East Ridge had been in this position before and knew what it took to win.
The Raptors played Eagan in the section finals last season and won the first two sets, but mistakes caused East Ridge to allow the Wildcats to come back and win 3-2.
The same two teams squared off on Saturday night in the section finals again as the Raptors focused on minimizing the mistakes against No. 1 seed Eagan.
"Eagan is a really good team," said Stephanie Barber. "We knew it was going to be a battle all night."
It certainly was a battle between the two top seeds, but Eagan was able to come out with the 3-0 sweep over East Ridge and advance to the state tournament. Therefore, the loss ended the Raptors volleyball season.
The four seniors agreed that the team was excited and energized to play on Saturday night and it showed in the first set.
"We showed all of our energy in the first set," said Kate Reimann. "It led to a great first set that just didn't go our way."
It was a back-and-forth set with leads from both East Ridge and Eagan until the Wildcats took the lead. They never looked back and eventually won the first set 25-21.
After a close win for Eagan, the Wildcats didn't look back and took charge in the second set with a 25-13 final score. The Raptors came fighting back, but Eagan closed the door with a 25-18 third set win to earn the sweep.
"They were competitive with each point and played hard all night," said head coach Steve Anderson. "That's what we ask them to do each night and they did just that tonight."
Obviously, no team wants to end their season with a loss, but Anderson was proud of how the girls played over the course of the season. He was also happy to see the team grow both on and off the court this season as a team.
With community involvement with younger volleyball teams to having gatherings as a team, it was a fun season for the team.
"This was one of the most fun seasons I've been a part of," said Gabi Izen. "We just became a close team at the start of the season."
Since the season has ended, the Raptors will be saying goodbye to four seniors that have led and created a new culture at East Ridge for the sport of girls volleyball.
Those four seniors include Izen, Barber, Reimann and Maddie Knupp. These four have grown up together, playing volleyball together and becoming practically sisters to one another.
Even though the season has ended, those four seniors will remember this season because of the people surrounding the program.
"I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to play with throughout my childhood," Knupp said. "It's been a great journey, but I know the future looks bright for East Ridge volleyball."
It was a sweet beginning and an even sweeter ending for New Life Academy on Thursday night.
The night started with the Eagles celebrating Halloween and throwing pieces of candy out to the fans when they were going through introductions before the match. The night ended with New Life finishing a 3-0 sweep over Mounds Park Academy to advance to the section finals on Saturday.
"We came out with some really good energy and confidence from [Tuesday's] match," said senior hitter Lauren Schumacher. "It was a fun night of volleyball and we're just fortunate to play in the section finals again this season."
The Eagles came out swinging in the first set taking advantage of Mounds Park Academy's strategy. Head coach Wally Bomgren said Mounds Park Academy only used one blocker for the outside hitters in the first set and so the Eagles decided to use their outside hitters more often to earn the points.
New Life earned the victory in the first set with a final score of 25-20. The second set had different strategies and the idea of patience for the Eagles.
Mounds Park Academy came out firing on all cylinders to start the second set gaining a small lead, but New Life made sure to keep it close. Then, the idea of patience paid off as New Life capitalized on a few small mistakes that allowed them to gain a lead and win 25-19.
"The second set was a big win for us because we knew we just had to finish with a 2-0 lead," said junior hitter Elli Wiertsema. "That was a big confidence boost for us heading into the third set."
The third set was all New Life as the Eagles found a rhythm and stuck to it until they scored the 25th point in the set. New Life won the third set 25-13 to earn the 3-0 sweep over the No. 3 seed Mounds Park Academy.
Now, the focus turns to No. 1 seed Nova Classical Academy on Saturday, Nov. 3. For the Eagles, this is similar to last year's section tournament except the seedings are different.
Last year, New Life upset Mounds Park Academy in a 3-0 sweep in the quarterfinals. Then, the Eagles upset Nova Classical Academy in the section finals last season in a 3-0 sweep to advance to the state tournament.
The first part of last season went the same way, but now the Eagles are looking to repeat history in the section finals to head back to the Xcel Energy Center next week.
"The nice part is that we've been to the section finals before and we know what the atmosphere is like," said senior hitter Kate Rogers. "We're really excited to be back at this point again, but we know what our goals are and hopefully we'll be able to play with the amount of energy we had tonight in Saturday's match."
The section finals for the 4A section tournament will take place on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. at Bloomington Kennedy High School. The winner of the match on Saturday will advance to the state tournament next week at the Xcel Energy Center.
Bomgren is excited for the match on Saturday and has learned so much from last season that he can incorporate into this weekend's match. The main thing he's happy about is the camaraderie between each player on this team.
"This is a very close group of girls and it shows when they play each match," Bomgren said. "I'm excited this program is back at the section finals and hopefully we can play our best volleyball this Saturday."
It was two volleyball matches that took place right down the street from one another and both ended in a similar fashion.
The one took place at East Ridge as the No. 2 seed Raptors hosted No. 3 seed Eastview for the section semifinal. That match ended in a 3-0 sweep in favor of East Ridge.
The second took place at New Life Academy as the No. 2 seed Eagles hosted No. 10 seed Minneapolis Patrick Henry. That match ended in a 3-0 sweep as well in favor of New Life.
It was a fast and productive night for each of the Woodbury based teams on Tuesday night to allow each of them to play another game in the volleyball season.
"We've been preparing for this moment throughout the entire season," said East Ridge head coach Steve Anderson. "I'm just happy they fought all night and battled through some adversity to get the win tonight."
Even though the result was similar between the two teams, the preparation was much different.
East Ridge won its quarterfinals match last Thursday, which allowed the team to play on Tuesday night. New Life hasn't played a match in two weeks because of the multiple byes the Eagles received in their section tournament.
"The girls responded well with the extended bye," said New Life head coach Wally Bomgren. "It was great to see everyone get back into the rhythm of a match."
That rhythm was seen early and often for both teams on Tuesday night as East Ridge and New Life got a lead early and kept it to gain the momentum of the match and, eventually, the win.
In the East Ridge match, the Raptors came out firing with an early lead to start the first set. That early lead carried East Ridge to a 25-17 win to start the evening.
The second set was much closer and the fight came from the Raptors to earn the second set win. East Ridge was leading in the second set, but Eastview came back with five straight points to tie the set at 20-20.
The Raptors took a deep breath and got to work. They were able to fight the comeback and finish with a 25-23 second set win.
"That was a big set for us because we really had to battle to earn the win," said senior setter Stephanie Barber. "I'm happy with how we fought and that will give us confidence heading into Saturday."
The third set was still close, but East Ridge was able to control the lead the majority of the set with a 25-19 win and a 3-0 match sweep.
The sweep was a confidence boost for the Raptors as they head to Prior Lake High School on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. to take on the No. 1 seed Eagan.
Eagan and East Ridge have had a past rivalry when it comes to their matches, but Eagan had the last victory. The Wildcats defeated the Raptors in the section finals last season to head to state and East Ridge is looking for some revenge this time around.
"We wanted to play Eagan in the section finals," said senior Gabi Izen. "We're just ready for a tough match and excited to play another match on Saturday."
For New Life Academy, it was a controlled match for the Eagles from the very beginning. In the first set, New Life came out firing and won 25-10 to take a 1-0 lead.
Then, the second and third sets were the same final score of 25-16. The fun part for Bomgren and the Eagles was the opportunity to allow some of the younger players to come in and gain experience in a section match.
"I remember when I was a younger player and the excitement I had when I played in a section match," said senior Kate Rogers. "Being able to see them play in this match was really exciting because I know this is a memory they won't forget."
The New Life girls understand what it takes to reach the state tournament since the Eagles made it last season, so they understand what the next couple matches will be like. Right now, the focus is on the No. 3 seed Mounds Park Academy as New Life hosts on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. in the section semifinals.
If the Eagles win on Thursday night, they will play at Bloomington Kennedy on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. for a chance to make it to the state tournament.
"Tonight was a confidence boost for all of us knowing the matches will get tougher and tougher," said senior Bethany Breiholz. "We just have to ready to play on Thursday night."