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Volleyball: Ratzloff, Grindland lead Raptors as team's only seniors

Seniors Ella Ratzloff and Janie Grindland have helped lead the East Ridge Raptors to a No. 10 state ranking and a share of the conference lead so far this season. John Molene / contributor

East Ridge seniors Ella Ratzloff and Janie Grindland are the survivors of the volleyball wars.

Both players started volleyball when they were youngsters, and year by year, have seen their classmates abandon volleyball for other pursuits.

"I wouldn't say it's weird," said Grindland. "I just feel that me and Ella were the most dedicated to the sport."

So Grindland and Ratzloff stuck with it, and are excelling for the 10th-ranked Raptors. The two players — the only seniors for the Raptors this season — have been through the highs and lows of varsity volleyball, and they're determined to go out with a bang in their final season.

Grindland is a 6-foot middle hitter for the Raptors. At 5-foot-5-inch Ratzloff is a defensive ace in her fifth year on East Ridge varsity.

Last season, Ratzloff led the Raptors defensively with a whopping 464 digs. She also had the highest serve percentage at .982.

"She's someone who you kind of take for granted," said East Ridge head coach Steve Anderson. "And I tell that, too. As a coach she just does the things you expect her to do.

"She's very consistent in serve receive, defensively she seems to be everywhere and gets all the balls up," Anderson continued. "She really is a stabilizing force in the back row. She's been a tremendous leader for the underclassmen."

While the hitters and blocker get most of the volleyball glory, the setters and defensive players often do the things that separate the good teams from the bad.

"I wouldn't change my role for anything," said Ratzloff. "I've always loved playing back row and digging balls and I don't really mind not doing the glory."

Grindland was second in blocks and was fourth in attack points. This year, while the Raptors aim to spread the ball around more offensively and be less predictable, the Raptors often go to Grindland in the middle to deliver the big hits.

"We've really seen a lot of improvement with her since the start of the year," Anderson said. "She's really connecting better with her setters and has started to accumulate the kill totals in the stat column. She's scoring a lot for us in her rotations. She's a good blocker as well. She throws her hands up there and gets in the head of the other team. Again, with her, a great kid."

Both players will be playing volleyball in college. Grindland will be playing at Division II Michigan Tech. Ratzloff is going to Division I Rhode Island.

Playing competitive club volleyball — indeed playing volleyball year round — has helped both of these players develop. Both played for the high-flying Northern Lights Juniors.

"I think it makes all the difference," Grindland said. "Because you're getting a lot more touches and you practice. You have consistent practice throughout the year, rather than just practicing for three months out of the year. It's more like 11 months out of the year."

But while Grindland and Ratzloff were key players on last season's 21-10 team, this year they've stepped up to become even more important, especially in the leadership department.

"They are both really great people," said Anderson. "They came in and both have been a part of the program for multiple years. They're just good kids. They're good to their teammates and really hard workers in practice. You can always count on them to be giving their best effort, their focus and kind of set that example for the whole team."

Both players have seen their skill sets improve since they first joined the varsity.

"I think for sure I've gotten a lot more faster, and I've improved my range of shots," said Grindland. "I think it's a lot more about speed and having a better volleyball IQ, knowing more about different ways to play different balls."

East Ridge is 10-5 overall and 4-0 in the Suburban East Conference. The Raptors, along with Stillwater and Forest Lake, are tied for the conference lead. Showdown games between the contenders are set for the next two weeks. East Ridge hosted Stillwater Tuesday, Oct. 10, and plays at Forest Lake Thursday, Oct. 12.

East Ridge has won 21 games in back-to-back seasons. But section success has proved elusive for the Raptors, who have lost in a traditional very tough section semifinals four of the last five seasons. Last year's team lost 3-2 to second-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall in the section semifinals. The year before that the Raptors bowed to Rosemount in the section semifinals.

"I would say this would be the best team for us so far," said Ratzloff, who should know, it being her fifth year on the varsity. "I think we just work together as a team. We don't really have issues on the court, which helps a ton."

This year the Raptors have also played a very challenging schedule in order to toughen them up for the section battles. The Raptors have lost just five times this season, all to ranked teams, including two games to top-ranked Lakeville North and one game to second-ranked Eagan.

East Ridge has won six straight contests this season, losing only 1 of 17 games in the process.

When the going gets tough for East Ridge, Anderson knows Grindland and Ratzloff are set to help the Raptors continue their winning ways.