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Season's end cannot quash ERHS spiker's enthusiasm

Using a term familiar to those who remember the old Columbia House Record Club catalog, the East Ridge volleyball team's debut performance was indeed a "Tour De Force."

The Raptors, with nary a senior on the club and just one player with previous varsity experience, put together a 16-12 overall record over the 2009 season -- an inaugural campaign that concluded with a four-game setback at the hands of Stillwater in the Section 4AAA semifinals on Wednesday, Nov. 4.

"We played well and played like a team," coach Katie Plummer said. "Stillwater obviously deserved to win."

The top-seeded Ponies would go on to claim the section title, adding that plaque to the Suburban East Conference championship laurels the squad clinched a few weeks back.

"It's not so bad losing to a team that ends up winning the whole thing," Plummer said. "We did better than the last time we played them."

East Ridge, seeded fifth in the sectional and coming off an upset victory at Cretin-Derham Hall six nights earlier, had the Ponies second-guessing matters after claiming the first game, 25-23.

"No matter who we are playing, if we are playing as a team, we're scary," Plummer said. "The girls came out fired up and got that first win, which was great, but Stillwater played impressively and won the next three."

Indeed, Stillwater (26-4 overall, 9-0 SEC) powered back ferociously from the initial surprise to claim games two and three by scores of 25-14 and 25-12, respectively. East Ridge didn't go quietly into the chilly night, however, pushing their hosts into the final points before succumbing, 25-22.

Outside hitters Dale Hoeffel and Felecia Ulrich shared the Raptors lead in kills, with 17 each, while middle hitters Melissa Sieben and Katie Kelzenberg both blocked four shots to also lead the squad.

"It was a great night, even though we lost," Plummer said. "I am so proud of the girls and how they played all year long."

The squad has much to be proud of from autumn 2009. East Ridge finished one game under .500 (4-5) in the SEC, tying with Hastings for sixth-place in the league.

However, while the five clubs in front of the Raptors will be graduating several of their premier players (or in the case of SEC No. 2 Forest Lake, all of them) East Ridge returns a fully-intact club with an entire season of top-level experience under their collective belt.

Expected to return include the likes of outside hitter Kristen Jorgensen (team-high 559 assists), Ulrich (380 kills), Hoeffel (272 kills), defensive specialist Cassie Yurick (342 digs), middle hitter Jess Bertrand (65 blocks), Kelzenberg (57 blocks) and Sieben (.377 hitting percentage).

"I'm impressed by the leadership qualities of our three captains, Kate Kelzenberg, Felicia Ulrich and Dale Hoeffel," Plummer said. "Great sacrfice for the team from our outside hitter, Kristen Jorgensen, who set for the team in order to give us a chance to be competitive."

Between the collection of returning talent and the unity the Raptors showed in Year One, coach Plummer is already thinking ahead to what could be a very successful 2010.

"The girls improved so much during the season and remained so close as a team," Plummer said. "We will be so much stronger next year -- just knowing that the same group will all be back next season is very, very exciting."