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East Ridge volleyball: Ponies end Raptors’ year in section tournament

From left, East Ridge junior Emily Hrastich and senior Maddie Christenson go up for a block in the Raptors’ loss to Stillwater in the Section 4AA tournament. (Bulletin photo by Nick Gerhardt)

Based on previous meetings this season and in the past East Ridge volleyball head coach Erin Nickleby expected an intense matchup Thursday when her fifth-seeded Raptors met fourth-seeded Stillwater in the first round of the Section 4AAA tournament.

When the teams met in the regular season the Ponies pulled out a five-set victory Sept. 17 at East Ridge High School. The Raptors had a 2-1 lead after the third set, but Stillwater rallied to win the final two sets for the victory.

“The last few years the rivalry between the two teams has been a bloodbath,” Nickleby said. “We knew that coming in. We had a lot of energy and we got out on the court and there was a little bit of a drop in that energy initially.”

A slow start and an inability to match the Ponies’ defense led to a 25-18, 25-22, 22-25, 26-24 season-ending loss for East Ridge.

It showed in the first two sets as the Raptors (19-11) fell behind early in both sets and struggled to communicate.

The Ponies (12-14) strung together a 6-0 run in the first set to build a 10-6 lead after trailing 6-4. The closest the Raptors got the rest of the set was a 15-14 lead at one point before Stillwater rolled to a 5-1 run to take a 21-16 lead.

The Ponies played terrific defense throughout and East Ridge struggled to find the holes on the court.

“They got two big middles that can put up a good block and when hit around them and the defense is there digging, it makes it harder for us to find new shots and adjust to it,” Nickleby said.

The Raptors fell behind early in the second set as well, but dug out of a five-point deficit to build a 22-20 lead before Stillwater went on a 5-0 run to steal the set.

East Ridge started the third set strongly and held as much as an eight-point at one juncture before the Ponies made it interesting late. Stillwater went on a 6-0 run to make it 23-21 and later 24-22 but the Raptors closed the set out for a 25-22 victory.

“I think we took a big enough breath to come together as a team,” Nickleby said about the difference in the third set. “We got comfortable playing with each other. Then I think we relaxed too much in game four.”

East Ridge stumbled to start the fourth set as the Ponies built a four-point lead at times. But the Raptors came on to tie the set at 22, 23 and 24 before finally surrendering.

The Raptors graduate five seniors from this year’s team.

—Nick Gerhardt