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East Ridge’s state appearances mean lots to Woodbury

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"Here we go!” the cheers start to rise from the cheerleaders and then the fans in the stands. East Ridge High School was ready for the playoffs this year.

It was not the luck of the draw for East Ridge, with both the volleyball section tournament and the state football tournament competitions occurring on the same day. But the Raptors volleyball team beat Eastview at home on Oct. 29 and drove to Edina in time for the final quarter of a Raptors football win against Wayzata. Then, the schedule flowed — it was off to St. Cloud for the state soccer tournament Nov. 2 and Nov. 5, and back to Eden Prairie on Nov. 6. Next up: the state football championship game Nov. 13.

Having three teams each winning playoff games in the same week has stirred up a wellspring of support, and not always from the most expected of places.

“We’re Woodbury fans,” MJ Okada said. “We’re Royals.”

But since he and Amber Ignaszewski grew up in Woodbury with eventual East Ridge students, the two Woodbury High School students came out to last Friday’s football game to cheer on Okada’s brother, Ty, and the Raptors, half of whom they know well.

“It’s your neighbors. We went to the same elementary and middle schools,” Okada said. “The state championship is a big deal. It’s East Ridge High School, but it’s the community of Woodbury, too.”

“We can kind of come together in that sense,” Ignaszewski said. 

While it’s been a special season for the East Ridge Raptors football and boys soccer teams, they were at times underestimated by their opponents. 

Michael Knox said the Prior Lake game that put the Raptors in the state football tournament “made me a believer.” Last Friday, he was loudly and proudly carrying an oversized cutout of Brison White’s head on a stick and barking orders to the linebacker and his teammates from across the track and behind a fence: “No. 21! We need a fumble!”

White nodded.

Knox said White comes from family lines that help with winning. White’s brother, Cretin Derham Hall grad Brian White Jr., played on a state championship winning team in 1999, with — most notably — Joe Mauer. White, whose family stood in the front row of the bleachers, has learned from his brother what it takes to win it all.

“It’s an accomplishment to follow his brother,” Knox said. “He’s knows the next level.”

Ballplayers who stay off the streets, get good grades and do their jobs on the field are making it tough on every worthy opponent they face. 

It helps to have backup, in your family and in the stands, night in and night out.

Cheerleaders rowse the crowd just to “support them through the fans,” cheer captain Alexis Goldstein said.

“Everybody knows what happened with East Ridge last year,” said Jeannine Lagman, whose children, Alejandro and Martina, are cross-country runners. “It’s another year. They’re trying their hardest, whether it’s soccer getting to state or football. It’s really a fun time. It’s a good feeling. I’m not a football fan; I have to be here!”

Treva Peters of Woodbury added: “It’s common ground everybody can relate to. Woodbury High School kids are here, and they are friends — except when they play each other, then they want to win. They like to see their friends win.”

“Coming off of last year, this is really huge,” said Ron Dorf of Woodbury. “This is the farthest we’ve ever made it at state. This means a lot for East Ridge and Woodbury.”

Dorf and his son, Hayden, a junior wide receiver on the team, delayed their plans to attend the Minnesota Gophers game vs. the Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio. They still went to the Gophers game. 

“He is very, very excited,” Dorf said of the Raptors. “They really feel like they can win the whole thing.”

His daughter, Josie, went to every boys soccer playoff game, too. And Dorf noticed the volleyball team when they showed up to support their football team, even if only for a short time.

“Our fans traveled well,” Dorf said. “It’s good school spirit.”

“It’s good for school pride this year,” cheer captain Eden Elliott said, “after all they’ve been through.”

And, added cheer captain Anna Shearer, “there’s something bonding about standing together in 20-degree weather.”