MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 9

EAST RIDGE 3, CHAMPLIN PARK 1

East Ridge head coach Steve Anderson only had a couple of substitutions left in the third set and the score was tied 25-25. The match overall was tied 1-1, too, and Anderson knew the Raptors had to win the third set.

While he was thinking, eighth-grader Macey Spolidoro peaked her head out to ask Anderson if she was going in. It was her turn in the rotation, but with the substitutions getting fewer and fewer he had to make a decision.

He waited a couple seconds and then told her to go in. Spolidoro went to the back line to serve.

Spolidoro grabbed the ball and looked ahead, taking a deep breath. Then, she served the ball just over the net and it landed in the front area of Champlin Park's court. One of the Rebels dove for the ball, but ended up hitting it straight into the net. East Ridge earned the point to make it 26-25.

"After earning that first point, I was excited to get the ace," Spolidoro said. "Once I got the ball back again for the second serve, I just wanted to do the same thing."

Spolidoro took another deep breath and connected on the ball. It sailed over the net and into Champlin Park's back row. One of the Rebels hit the ball, but it bounced off her arms in the wrong direction as the ball went backwards and out of play.

East Ridge won the third set 27-25 and the players and coaches all cheered. Many of the girls gave Spolidoro a high-five and a hug because an eighth-grader just took control of a set.

Anderson said that winning the third set was a big confidence boost and momentum shift for the Raptors as they fought in the fourth set to win 27-25 once again. East Ridge won the overall match 3-1 over the defending state champions.

"These are the matches we want to play early in the season," Anderson said. "We schedule a strong non-conference season because we want to play the best of the best in the state. That will only prepare us for the conference season and also the end of the season."

Mikayla McDougall hits the ball over the Champlin Park blockers on Monday, Sept. 9, at East Ridge High School as the Raptors defeated the Rebels 3-1 in a top 10 match. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia
Mikayla McDougall hits the ball over the Champlin Park blockers on Monday, Sept. 9, at East Ridge High School as the Raptors defeated the Rebels 3-1 in a top 10 match. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia

East Ridge was ranked No. 7 in the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association weekly poll, while Champlin Park was ranked No. 9 so both teams understood the level of competition on Monday.

The first set was controlled by the Raptors as East Ridge earned the 25-16 win to take a 1-0 lead early in the evening. The second set was a battle as Champlin Park came out firing with a 5-0 lead. The Raptors fought back to take an 8-7 lead, but ultimately the Rebels earned the 25-22 victory to tie the match 1-1.

The third set was won by East Ridge due to the heroics of Spolidoro at the end of the set, so the Raptors took back a 2-1 lead in the match. The fourth set was tied at 25-25 after back-and-forth play.

For the 26th point, East Ridge's Audrey Spolidoro set a perfect ball for sophomore hitter Britt Carlson, and Carlson came down with a loud kill.

Then, Maria Chapman took the ball and served it for an ace to win the fourth set 27-25.

"This was a big win for us because it shows we can compete with anyone in the state," said Audrey Spolidoro. "This win will help us with confidence heading into the conference season later this week."

Prior to Monday's match, East Ridge received some bad news as junior outside hitter Jadyn Garrison hurt her foot during practice on Friday and is out two to three weeks. It doesn't end her season, but one of the team's leaders will have to lead from the bench.

Players like Macey Spolidoro will now have more time on the court and she's excited to get the opportunity.

"I just want to help the team in any way I can," said Macey Spolidoro. "Whether that's serving or getting digs in the back row, I just want to make sure I do my part to help this team win."

Along with a strong back row that dug out many balls from the Champlin Park hitters on Monday night, the Raptors also relied on their setter and a well-balanced front row of hitters.

Junior setter Audrey Spolidoro sets the ball behind her to one of the East Ridge outside hitters to record a point in the match on Monday, Sept. 9, at East Ridge High School. The Raptors earned the 3-1 over Champlin Park. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia
Junior setter Audrey Spolidoro sets the ball behind her to one of the East Ridge outside hitters to record a point in the match on Monday, Sept. 9, at East Ridge High School. The Raptors earned the 3-1 over Champlin Park. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia

Audrey Spolidoro has become more and more comfortable with the hitters as East Ridge's main setter this season. She said the chemistry between all the hitters has allowed her to understand which hits are better for each of the players and she can set appropriately. Ultimately, she trusts that all of the girls can put the ball on the ground and record a kill at any time during the match.

Carlson was one of the hitters on the front row for the majority of the match. She was consistently finding the right spots to record her kills, especially in the fourth set where she was just using strength against the Champlin Park blockers.

"I was just getting perfect sets by Audrey, which helped with finding the right area to get around the blockers and earn the point," Carlson said. "We want to win a conference title, so we need to stay focused on what's ahead and take each match one at a time."