It's a familiar match up in the Class 3AAA section finals as East Ridge and Eagan faced off once again for a spot in the state tournament.
The No. 2 seed Raptors and the No. 1 seed Wildcats have played each other the last two section finals and East Ridge thought the third time would be the charm.
Eagan didn't allow that to happen as the Wildcats swept 3-0 to end East Ridge's section run and the 2019 season. The loss hurts, but it also reminds the players and coaches the memories that came from the fall season.
"We knew that we couldn't allow Eagan to control the match," said East Ridge head coach Steve Anderson. "If they took control, it would be hard to beat them. They were able to take control in that first set and it helped them win this match."
The Wildcats came into the section finals match undefeated on the season and not only the No. 1 seed in the section, but the No. 1 seed in the state rankings throughout the majority of the regular season. The Raptors came in with a three-match winning streak including two sweeps in the section quarterfinals and semifinal matches.
Eagan started off the match with a lot of momentum as the Wildcats led 9-3 in the first set. The Raptors were able to get on a hot streak and command a 23-22 lead closer to the end of that first set.
That momentum on East Ridge's side came to a complete halt when Eagan won the first set 26-24 and all of the momentum went to the Wildcats heading into the second set. That allowed Eagan to win the second set 25-17, but Anderson said he was happy with the Raptors' third-set performance.
East Ridge lost 25-23 in the third set to finish off the match, but Anderson was proud of their fight in the final set to make it close and never give up.
"It's tough to be down 2-0 to a team like Eagan and fight hard in two sets," Anderson said. "These girls didn't drop their heads and kept playing hard to make it another close set in the third."
The season didn't end the way the players and coaches were hoping as their goal was to reach the state tournament at the beginning of the season, but there are many aspects to take away from this fall.
The team fought through many different injuries, which resulted in lineup changes on a consistent basis. Jadyn Garrison injured her foot and was out the majority of the regular season, while Britt Carlson was injured for the second half of the regular season and into the section tournament as well.
The girls were able to battle through those ups and downs and come out with a conference title and a 9-0 record in the Suburban East Conference. Many of these players formed strong friendships with one another, which is why saying goodbye will be tough.
"I've formed so many friendships with players throughout my years on this team and it'll be weird not seeing them next fall," said senior captain Avery Burger. "I'm honored to be a captain for this team this year and I know these girls will work hard to come back next season even better."
Burger and Rachel Schneider are the only two seniors on this team, but both played a crucial role in the success from this fall. Anderson said he saw so much improvement from these two throughout the year and couldn't be more proud of their accomplishments.
Burger has played many different spots on the court throughout her time as a Raptor, while Schneider has been a strong hitter for East Ridge this season and earning key kills each match.
The players have talked about the senior leadership on this team and how much those two girls have played a role both on and off the court. Whether it was a practice, match, after school event or passing by in the hallway, Burger and Schneider always made sure their teammates knew they were there for each player.
"I hope that our senior class is known for our competitiveness and our ability to comeback and fight in each match," Schneider said. "Hopefully that mindset carries into next season for these girls and they continue building this team for the future."
With only two seniors graduating, Anderson will have many players returning to the varsity team next year. He'll have players like Garrison, Carlson, Lauren Galvin, Audrey Spolidoro, Macy Grehan, Faith Saewert, Mikayla McDougall and Camryn Greenwald.
All of these players had a role on the court for the Raptors this season and they will be looked at for their leadership next season, especially the juniors that will be seniors next fall.
East Ridge should have a strong core coming back for the 2020 season and the Raptors are hoping that the fourth time is the charm because their sights are on returning back to the section finals and reaching the state tournament.
"It's great to know that many girls will be coming back next season and we'll have a lot of veteran talent on the team," Anderson said. "Right now though, I want to thank the seniors for their help this season and making this season a historic year for our program and the high school."