The stands were packed on both sides of the volleyball court on Thursday night as East Ridge hosted Woodbury in a rivalry match. It wasn't just a city rivalry match, but a match that had major implications on the outcome of the conference season.
The Raptors and Royals were both undefeated in the conference before heading into that Thursday match and the two teams were the only two undefeated teams left in the Suburban East Conference.
After Thursday, only one team remained undefeated and that was the East Ridge girls' volleyball team as the Raptors won 3-1 over Woodbury in a memorable night for the city of Woodbury.
"This has been a tough week for our team," said East Ridge head coach Steve Anderson. "We played two very tough teams in Stillwater and Woodbury and we were able to come out with two wins. I'm so proud of how the girls came in prepared and ready to take on this challenge with these two teams.
"Brad has a great team over at Woodbury and they played a great match on Thursday."
This match had been anticipated for a couple of weeks as both teams continued winning in the conference. Not only just winning, but mostly dominating their opponents for the first six matches.
The atmosphere on Thursday night felt like a section tournament match and the coaches and players felt it on both teams. Anderson said it was a great experience for the girls and it showed just how important these two schools are to this community.
The match started the way Anderson expected with long volleys for each point, back-and-forth scoring and a close set score at the end. The two teams worked to keep each point close and the first set close as it took more than 25 points to determine the winner.
East Ridge had the lead and needed one more point to lock up the victory, but Woodbury kept battling to tie the set at 24-24. The Royals eventually won the first set 28-26 and the momentum went into Woodbury's favor.
The Royals continued that success into the second set, but the Raptors didn't back down from the challenge. Each team made small runs, but the score stayed close for the majority of the set.
Then, East Ridge took control late and captured the 25-21 victory in the second set to tie the match at 1-1. That set win led to East Ridge opening the rest of the match as the Raptors won 25-13 in the third set and 25-19 in the fourth set to win 3-1 overall against the Royals.
"We worked together as a team all night and all week," Anderson said. "We knew we had to come back in that second set to tie the match and that helped with winning the next two sets."
The Raptors did have to work together as news came out that Britt Carlson was going to be out for the match with a foot injury, while Jadyn Garrison has been out for the second half of the season with a foot injury as well.
Carlson is one of the top hitters for East Ridge and with her height she has been able to record many kills for the Raptors. Even though the Raptors wanted those two on the court, it have younger players the opportunity to play some big roles in the biggest match of the season.
Anderson liked how each player stepped up and took control of their position and their responsibilities on the court. He hopes that will carry throughout the final matches of the regular season.
"We just need to focus on each match and not get too far ahead," Anderson said. "It's great that we can control the conference, but we know there are some tough opponents ahead in the last three matches."
The Royals played a strong game on Thursday as the defensive kept balls alive to create long volleys and the offense was able to find spots to record kills.
Head coach Brad English knew this was going to be a tough match, but he was excited to see how the girls played in this type of environment because this will be similar to section tournament matches in the middle of October.
Woodbury has four matches left in the regular season and three of them are conference matches. The Royals will host Park on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. before hitting the road on Thursday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. to play at White Bear Lake.
Then, the Royals play Benilde-St. Margaret's and Cretin-Derham Hall to end their season, but Woodbury will need help to win the conference. They will need East Ridge to lose a couple of conference matches because even if the two teams are tied, the Raptors will win the tiebreaker.
As for East Ridge, the Raptors have three matches left and all of them are conference matches. The team will hit the road on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. to play at Forest Lake before coming home to host Irondale on Thursday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m.
Finally, East Ridge will play at Roseville on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. to conclude the regular season. If East Ridge is able to win two of the three matches or all of them, the Raptors will be crowned conference champions.