Top-ranked Eagan knocks out Raptors in section finals
The East Ridge Raptors are knocking on the door.
The Eagan Wildcats are already there.
Top-ranked Eagan showed why it's perennially one of the best volleyball teams in Minnesota with a three-game sweep of East Ridge Saturday, winning 25-22, 25-14 and 25-13 to advance to the Class AAA state tournament for the fifth straight season.
Eagan just had too many weapons in the Class AAA, Section 3 volleyball championship held at Prior Lake High School. The win was Eagan's 20th straight victory of the season. The Wildcats, amazingly, haven't even lost a set since a 3-2 win over Rosemont back on Sept. 14. Eagan is 49-0 in games since then.
The Raptors came close to breaking that streak, trailing just 23-21 in the first set before the Wildcats closed it out.
The second and third sets were more lopsided Eagan wins, but the Raptors made the Wildcats work hard for almost everything they got.
"We had a game plan going in and it was working for us a little bit in that first set," said East Ridge head coach Steve Anderson. "But we kind of got away from that a little bit and they made some adjustments as well. They're just a very solid team on the other side of the net."
The problem was Eagan showed few, if any, weaknesses. The Wildcats played power volleyball offensively, passed extremely well and let very little drop. Only hard spikes by the East Ridge front line did much damage, and those points were just too hard to come by for the Raptors.
Eagan will take a 28-1 record into the state volleyball tournament.
East Ridge finished with a 22-10 record.
It was the third straight 20-win season for the Raptors, who also bagged an undefeated Suburban East Conference championship under first-year coach Anderson.
It was also the first time the ninth-ranked Raptors have advanced to the section finals after being eliminated in the semifinals the last two years.
"I think you learn from this experience," said Anderson. "When you come into a section final with state on the line there's a lot of pressure and that's something our girls haven't had before. The girls on the other side of the net have been through that.
"I think with the number of young girls that we have on this team, it's a great learning experience for them and they're going to get another shot at it," Anderson added.
East Ridge knocked out Rosemount in three games Nov. 1 to advance to the section finals.
East Ridge will lose just two seniors off this year's team, but both starters will be tough to replace. Senior middle hitter Janie Grindland was a force in the middle of the front line, while libero Ella Ratzloff keyed the defense.
"I think they (the Wildcats) just played a lot cleaner than we did tonight," said Grindland. "We had a little too many unforced errors, whereas they kept it very clean."
Eagan didn't present many weaknesses for the East Ridge hitters to attack.
"Especially with their big block, it's hard to find your way around it," said Grindland.
A key for the returning Raptors will be to up their games a notch, both on a physical and a mental level. The Raptors certainly took a step in that direction this season.
"It's more like a mental game in our minds and we have to go in full force, all effort, thinking we can take them on. We can get in their heads and make them make the mistakes," said East Ridge's Lauren Galvin. "I feel we were making a little bit more mistakes than we should have. But we played really hard and so did they."