The East Ridge girls' volleyball team ended their regular season schedule in Roseville on Tuesday night and ended up with a 3-0 sweep to continue their successful conference season.
How successful? The Raptors were able to win the conference title on Tuesday as they completed a perfect 9-0 record in the conference.
It's been a season with many ups and downs regarding close matches, injuries and players stepping up in different positions.
"This conference title is the true definition of a team title," said head coach Steve Anderson. "It took every player on our team and each of our coaches to work their hardest to work through challenges and reach this point at the end of the season. I'm so proud of everyone for earning this conference title."
The season started with a new look for the Raptors from the 2018 season as the East Ridge team lost their starting setter and a couple of hitters, but kept a strong defensive line.
Anderson and the Raptors captains all agreed that the defense was going to the big difference in winning and losing matches in the conference. In the early part of the season, East Ridge came out firing on all cylinders.
There were certainly things that needed to be worked on as with any team early in the season, but the defense was showing their true colors against some strong teams. The Raptors won two of their first three matches of the season and they hit one of their first true roadblocks.
A couple weeks into the season, Jadyn Garrison came down wrong on her foot at practice and injured it resulting in her being sidelined for the rest of the regular season. It was a tough injury to overcome, but the girls came back to win three of the four matches the next day and beat the defending state champions, Champlin Park, a couple days after the tournament.
"The injury to Jadyn tested our team to see who would step up and take over as a leader on the court," Anderson said. "Our girls were able to step up and come out with some strong victories."
Once that injury occurred, the offensive side seemed to catch fire for the Raptors. Britt Carlson led that charge on the offense as the 6-foot-4 sophomore started finding her rhythm with kills and blocks.
Along with Carlson, Avery Burger and Lauren Galvin found their spots too on the offense to record some key points to help East Ridge earn wins. The Raptors also had Audrey Spolidoro set up in the setter role this season and build the chemistry between each of the hitters to form many different weapons on the offensive end.
This offensive charge and the defensive consistency led to the Raptors winning 14 of the next 15 matches in the season and beginning to see that hot streak form midway through the season.
"Every player had a role on the team whether you were on the court or on the bench," Anderson said. "They all knew they were needed at any point to step up for particular tasks."
Once everything started clicking for this team, another injury occurred as Carlson went down on probably the biggest week for the Raptors. East Ridge had to prepare for a road match against Stillwater and a home match against Woodbury without one of their best hitters.
The girls continued to work hard and it led to the Raptors sweeping Stillwater 3-0 and defeating the only other undefeated conference team at the team Woodbury 3-1. This 2-0 week gave East Ridge the confidence needed to finish the season strong and claim that conference title.
The ability to bring home the title on Tuesday was a goal that was set at the beginning of the season for the entire team because they saw Stillwater win the title last season. They didn't want that to happen again.
That loss to the Ponies last season was the only conference loss for the Raptors over the past three seasons. East Ridge went 8-0 in 2017, 7-1 in 2018 and 9-0 in 2019. The Raptors combined to go 24-1 in the conference and 56-23 overall the past three seasons along with earning two conference titles in 2017 and 2019.
"It's been a fun journey these past few years with these teams and I'm so honored to be part of them," Anderson said. "These girls are always ready to work in practice and on game days and it shows in what they've been able to accomplish these last few seasons."
Now, the focus shifts to the section tournament and trying to get through the No. 1 seed in the tournament and the No. 1 ranked team in the state, the Eagan Wildcats. Eagan has been a strong team for many years and have been a familiar opponent for the Raptors in the section finals.
As the No. 2 seed in the tournament, East Ridge hopes to use this balance of offensive and defensive power to compete with the Wildcats and pull out that victory. First, the Raptors are focusing on their quarterfinals match on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. as they will play either the No. 7 seed Cretin-Derham Hall or the No. 10 seed Park at East Ridge High School.
"This has been a really fun season for me as a coach because I've been able to see these players grow each day," Anderson said. "They are good players, but even better people."