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East Ridge swimming & diving: Raptors claim conference supremacy with win over Stillwater

Welcome to the big time, East Ridge.

The Raptors boys swimming and diving team proved to be for real, earning the biggest win in its four-year history with a 95-91 victory over perennial Suburban East Conference and state power Stillwater on Thursday, Dec. 21.

With a win over Mounds View already under East Ridge's belt, the Raptors (2-0) are now the clear favorites to win this year's Suburban East Conference championship crown.

East Ridge second-year head coach Steve Webb said Stillwater has a very good team and swam really well in the dual, but that the Raptors are just, well, better.

"We're just better than they are," Webb said. "The fact they beat us by 10 points in diving and we still won by four points is kind of proof of that."

It's thought to be three years since Stillwater lost a conference meet.

"They've been really good for a while," Webb said. "(Stillwater head coach) Brian Luke is the best coach in the state in my opinion. He's been doing it for 30 years and you know you're going to get a good meet when you go in there. They're just so deep, it's hard to beat a team like that. You basically just have to win every race."

In the meet, the Raptors took first place in all but three events - the 100-yard butterfly, the 200-yard freestyle and the diving competition - in the 12-event meet.

The win over Stillwater was the ninth-straight dual meet victory for East Ridge - dating back to last year when the Raptors went 8-1, with their only loss coming to the Ponies.

Webb said he foresees a long rivalry with Stillwater.

"We always would've liked to say we had a rivalry with Stillwater - a lot of teams would like to say that - but it really wasn't true until last year when we went 8-1 and only lost to them by a few points," Webb said. "We don't have one senior on the team and they're really young too. I think this is going to be a rivalry for the next five or 10 years, at least, hopefully."

After Stillwater won the diving competition 13-3, the Ponies owned a 10-point lead at the halfway point and held it until the final two events. However, in the last two events, East Ridge took first, second and third in the 100-yard breaststroke to win the event 13-3, then won the 400-yard freestyle relay to edge Stillwater 8-6 in the event and clinch the victory.

"(Stillwater) took 1-2-3 in diving," Webb said. "Our guys saw that and knew they had to come up with something big the last half of the meet. I told them they needed to step up and they did."

Though finishing 1-2-3 in the 100 breaststroke was huge, Webb said it wasn't a surprise and big races in the 100-yard freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle were really the difference.

"In the breaststroke, our third-place guy was four seconds faster than they're best guy, so I knew that one wouldn't even be close," Webb said. "It was really the other guys stepping up. The 100 free and 500 free were huge races."

As expected, East Ridge sophomore James Tidd won the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 49.73 seconds. But, sophomore Pierce Firebaugh and junior Ryan Schiferl also earned points in the event, taking third and fourth, respectively, with times of 51.64 and 52.15.

In the 500 free, junior Garrett Verhoeven won with a time of 5 minutes, 2.60 seconds, which came as no surprise. However, sophomore Aleksander Holleran earned a third-place finish as well, in 5:08.64, earning three much-needed points.

"I knew we'd get first in those two events, but Pierce Firebaugh and Ryan Schiferl getting third and fourth in the 100 and Alexander Holleran taking third in the 500 was huge for us," Webb said. "Those were the three guys we needed to step up and they did it. Holleran probably had the swim of the meet. It was a really exciting race."

Winning all three relay races was also big for East Ridge.

"I kind of split them up so we could win all three instead of just going super fast in just two of them," Webb said. "I wanted to make sure we'd win all three. I think that kind of surprised Stillwater. It's nice to be able to afford to do that."

East Ridge's Sam Scholz, Tidd, Mason Pflieger and Verhoeven won the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:43.55. In the 200-yard freestyle relay, Tidd, Firebaugh, Kent Rabideaux and Verhoeven combined for a time of 1:31.57 to take first and Firebaugh, Holleran, Scholz and Rabideaux teamed up to win the 400-yard free relay in a time of 3:20.46.

In the 400 free relay, Rabideaux swam a split of 47.08, which Webb said would likely earn a top five spot in the state meet. Rabideaux also won the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 22.25 and took second in the 100-yard butterfly (54.77).

In addition to helping the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay teams take first, Tidd won the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:02.68 and touched the wall first in the 100-yard freestyle in a time of 49.73.

Scholz, along with helping the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay teams finish first, won the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:02.73 and the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 54.93, which is faster than the state-meet cut and a personal best time.

"The top guys pretty much just did what they needed to, which was to win their races, but it was really the No. 2 and 3 guys that stepped up," Webb said.

If East Ridge hasn't opened eyes around the state already, the win over the Ponies should do it.

Webb said Eden Prairie is the top team in the state, followed by Minnetonka. But that Edina and his East Ridge team are right behind them.

With their two toughest competitions of the season behind them, East Ridge will turn its focus to training and improving for the section and state meet. The Raptors won't compete in the True Team meet, so East Ridge won't see Stillwater again until sections.

"We have a chance to beat them at sections as well and go to state and finish in the top five," Webb said. "It'll be fun to be able to just focus on training and getting better. That's really nice."