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Season Preview: Raptors take aim at sections

Emma Stoehr is one of six seniors and three starters returning from last year. (Photo by John Molene)
The Raptors were so close to their first girls state basketball tournament last season they could taste it.

But East Ridge’s 56-51 loss to White Bear Lake in the Class 4A, Section 4 finals spoiled the party.

This season, the Raptors would like nothing better than to take their next step.

East Ridge returns six seniors and most of its key players from last season’s team, which went 22-7 overall and 12-4 in the Suburban East Conference to tie for second in the league.

The veteran and talented Raptors are on the cusp of some great things, head coach Glen Wurm said.

“It’s funny how things change,” Wurm said. “It wasn’t that long ago when I started five freshmen out here when we opened the doors to having basically five seniors out there.”

Headlining the senior returners are guard Noelle Tomes, four-year starting guard Emma Stoehr, senior center Mariah Sexe and senior forward Kelen Kenol.

Tomes led the conference in scoring last season. She and Sexe are two-time all-SEC players and among the top seniors in the state. Kenol signed a letter of intent in November to play basketball at Austin Peay State University. Sexe signed to play basketball at Lehigh University.

Also back is senior Lauren Johnson, a 5-foot-8 guard who started for the Raptors two seasons ago but sat out last season. Linnea Yacovella, a 5-foot-9 guard, played a lot as a freshman last season, and Bridgette Sieffert, a senior guard, will also be counted on to contribute.

Three players who won’t be back for the Raptors are graduated seniors Taylor Persche and Sophie Zavoral and junior guard Ashley Holton. Holton, last season’s assist leader, elected not to play this season.

“My expectations are the same with this group honestly as they are with any other group,” Wurm said. “And the vision of this program is to compete at the highest level possible. And there’s really two ways to look at that. The highest level possible in this state is the state tournament. Another way to look at it is you’re given a group of players — what are their capabilities? What’s the highest level for that group? So that has always been our focus and our vision. We want to seek excellence in everything that we do.”

Tomes led the Raptors with 16.7 points per game last season. Sexe scored 14.7 points per game and grabbed an average of 8.1 rebounds. Kenol averaged 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds, and Stoehr scored 7.4 points per game.

The Raptors are expected to be once again competitive, skilled and experienced.

“Our process really has been learning how to compete, to learning how to win, to learning how to handle winning, to now recognizing the importance of the process and discipline to become champions,” Wurm said.

Last season the Raptors stormed through the regular season with just six losses, then aced Tartan and Cretin-Derham Hall in section play before losing to White Bear Lake in the section championship.

The key for the Raptors to make the last hurdle is easier said than done.

“We recognize the importance of the process,’’ Wurm said. “We need to get better today. We are nowhere near where we want to be, right now, today. To get to that point where we feel good about where we are we have to stay focused on the process and take care of the little things that we go through each and every day. And for many of the girls, given their experience, it’s going to be somewhat ‘are we really going through this?’ And yes we are, because those are the foundational pieces that are going to allow us to continue to build and grow.”

East Ridge hosts Eagan in the season opener Tuesday, Nov. 29.