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Volleyball: Raptors advance to section semifinals

Senior Allie Barber of the Raptors slams another ball at the Simley defense Thursday. Barber had 16 kills to lead East Ridge. (Bulletin photos by John Molene)1 / 3
East Ridge's Laine Hoeffel (6) and Grace Whitman (11) go up to block a Simley shot in game one of the section meet.2 / 3
East Ridge senior Laine Hoeffel's shot splits a pair of Simley defenders in game three of the section match Thursday.3 / 3

A delayed senior night ended happily on Thursday as East Ridge blew past Simley and into the Class 3A, Section 3 volleyball semifinals.

East Ridge won in straight sets, 25-9, 25-20 and 25-19 to advance.

The third-seeded Raptors (21-9) now play rival and second-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall (21-6) in the Section 3AAA volleyball semifinals. That game will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2 at Prior Lake High School.

Thursday’s game marked the final home match for four seniors who have contributed to the Raptors’ successes. East Ridge seniors Leah Witzel, Brinn Strenger, Allie Barber and Laine Hoeffel bowed out in style.

“Our blocking really stepped up this game,” said junior outside hitter Kate Reimann. “From the beginning of the season, our communication and just our overall effort has really improved. Both in the back row and in the front row, we’re better at seeing where’s there open spots on the court and executing.”

Barber had 16 kills to pace the Raptors. Witzel had 22 assists and 10 digs. Stephanie Barber had 20 assists.

“I think that we’re playing really good volleyball right now,” said head coach Madeline Amon. “There’s still a couple things to work on in between now and when we play on Wednesday. But I’m impressed with how they’ve come along this season.”

In other section games Thursday, top-ranked Eagan swept Park 3-0, Cretin edged Hastings 3-2 and Rosemount blanked Eastview 3-0.

Eagan (26-1) will play fourth-seeded Rosemount (14-14) in the other section semifinal Wednesday, with the two winners advancing to Saturday’s section finals, also at Prior Lake, starting at 6 p.m.

The rematch against Cretin will, in a sense, make up for the final regular season match between the two teams which was canceled after it was discovered East Ridge had already appeared in the maximum number of regular season games. Cretin won the Suburban East Conference with a 7-0 record. But East Ridge swept the Raiders 2-0 in the Lakeville North tournament Oct. 15.

“They’re going to come out ready to go and we’re going to do the same,” said East Ridge middle hitter Janie Grindland. “We both want the win and I think we’re both going to come out there and do our best. They have some pretty solid pin hitters and so I think getting a good block up and having a ready defense is going to be key in shutting them down.”

“Cretin is a big rivalry match for us,” said Amon.  “They’re always tough competition and they have some good outside hitters. Our job is going to be to play our game and to shut them down on the outside.”

The Raptors, and perhaps especially the East Ridge seniors, are looking forward to another crack at Cretin.

“They have been leaders this entire year,” Amon said. “Allie is one of the top hitters in the state and a senior captain, and she has done everything that I’ve asked for this year and has done it really well. Leah is a setter and has been an amazing teammate. She has been able to set an amazing offense this year and through a lot of adversity has come out with over 1,000 assists in her career and is doing awesome. Brinn Strenger is an amazing human being, she’s a great leader and she really just puts a smile on everybody’s face. And Laine has improved immensely in the past two years that I’ve had her. Just watching her every game get better and better has been really great.”