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Volleyball: Raptors top Stillwater, then claim SEC title with win over Forest Lake

East Ridge middle hitter Janie Grindland (center, 10), one of just two seniors for the Raptors, celebrates a victory over Stillwater with her teammates. John Molene / contributor1 / 4
East Ridge's Lauren Galvin pounds a shot past a Stillwater defender Tuesday, Oct. 10, in an SEC volleyball showdown. Galvin had 17 kills in the match. John Molene / contributor2 / 4
Freshman outside hitter Jadyn Garrison tips a ball over against Stillwater in East Ridge's win over the No. 4 Ponies. John Molene / contributor3 / 4
Junior Alaina Erickson (1) sets up a shot for teammate Janie Grindland in game five against Stillwater. John Molene / contributor4 / 4

There was no doubt about it: The Raptors were due for a big win.

And as the final few points were played in a thrilling back-and-forth match against fourth-ranked Stillwater, the Raptors knew they finally had one.

"It's a huge win for the team, for the program and for us going forward," said East Ridge head coach Steve Anderson.

East Ridge defeated the visiting Stillwater Ponies in five games, 25-15, 21-25, 26-24, 22-25 and 15-9 — a win that put the Raptors a victory away from sole possession of a first-ever Suburban East Conference crown. They secured the conference crown by beating Forest Lake later in the week.

Senior libero Ella Ratzloff, junior setter Alaina Erickson, along with a host of young hitters, were the stars for the Raptors against the Ponies Tuesday, Oct. 10. Ratzloff had 29 digs, while Erickson had a whopping 58 set assists. Junior Kate Reimann and freshman Lauren Galvin had 17 kills each for East Ridge. Junior Grace Whitman added 12.

"It feels really great," said Reimann. "We've worked really hard for it in practice and this has been a game that we were looking forward to all year and I'm really happy that we pulled it off tonight.

East Ridge played consistent volleyball the entire match, scoring big kills, digging out tough balls and delivering the ball in prime position time after time.

"I know Ella Ratzloff played an amazing defense," said Ratzloff. "Other than that we were taking big swings and we didn't really let any balls drop. We played really good defense and that's all you can really ask for."

The Raptors jumped out to a 7-4 lead in the fifth game, highlighted by a monster kill by Reimann. Stillwater never got closer than three points the rest of the way and the Raptors had bagged themselves a title.

"It's a nice Senior Day present," said Ratzloff. "Honestly my mind set was nothing was going to hit the floor and I just love digging so, it was fun.

"I think we did a really nice job of spreading out the offense and relentless defense effort," added Ratzloff. "We pushed through and we battled back when we were down. I feel we had a lot of resilience."

"Sometimes you kind of forget about her because she just does her job," Anderson said of Ratzloff. "She's a quiet player who doesn't play flashy. She just always gets the job done—unbelievable libero for us. Tonight I haven't looked at the stats yet but it seemed like she was digging every ball, left and right, and kept balls alive. They had a lot of one-on-one matchups with their middles and she was right place at the right time. A crushed hit and it was up."

The Raptors wrapped up the regular season with the conference title-claiming victory over Forest Lake in five sets Thursday, Oct. 12: 25-15, 21-25, 26-24, 22-25 and 15-9.

East Ridge has played — and lost to — most of the top teams in Minnesota this season, including No. 1 Eagan, No. 2 Lakeville North (twice), No. 6 Champlin Park, and No. 7 Prior Lake. But against Stillwater, it was East Ridge's turn to win.

"We went five sets with Lakeville North and Eagan," said Anderson. "So to come up against another ranked team and to go to that fifth set and finally get one was — I think it builds confidence for our team and for our to know that if we get to that point again we can win it."

"We've definitely played some of the top teams in the state and we really pulled it off," added Reimann. "That really prepared us to play up against these guys. We knew what to expect and how we needed to play."