Class 3A's 10th-ranked East Ridge volleyball team recorded its fifth-straight win Tuesday, Sept. 26, with a sweep of visiting Park. The Raptors won 25-9, 25-6 and 25-9. "They just have a level of comfortability with each other," Park head coach Damon Liberatore said. "They pass the ball well. They play great defense. I thought both teams played great defense. They just have some real nice offensive threats that they were able to use. It's a war of attrition at that point. They're digging; we're digging. But their hitters are a little bit more seasoned than we are."
All those early games against top-10 opponents are starting to pay off for the East Ridge Raptors. East Ridge and Mounds View came into Tuesday's game with similar records, but the Raptors easily dominated the visiting Mustangs, sweeping three games. East Ridge won 25-18, 25-18 and 25-16. The Raptors jumped out to big leads in games one and two, took their feet off the pedal a bit, but still were able to close out the wins.
Last week it was defensive problems which plagued Academy Force in a loss to St. Paul Johnson. Friday night it was the offense that wasn’t working for the Force in a 40-0 loss to a good Mound-Westonka team in a game played at Woodbury High School.
In a season of change in the Suburban East Conference — four of the nine teams have new coaches — Woodbury's Cassie Cahill has a young Royals team hustling. In a match Sept. 5 against a good Mahtomedi squad, Woodbury trailed 1-0 and then 2-1 in games but pushed the visitors to the brink before falling in the fifth-set tiebreaker. The Royals battled fiercely, consistently chasing down or diving for balls while many players would have given up.
New head coach Steve Anderson, who had a successful 10-year run coaching at North St. Paul, is coming south this season take over a prosperous volleyball program at East Ridge. Anderson, a Woodbury resident, was eager to apply to coach the Raptors when he saw an opening and a chance to be closer to home. He'll take over a Raptors team coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons, but is missing several of its top players from those teams.
There's a new head coach in Damon Liberatore, new assistants and almost an entirely new varsity team. Ten of the 11 players on the varsity roster were seniors last season including standouts Victoria Bade, Jordan Lamberty, Tori Novotny and Hanna Mortenson. The only veteran returning for the Wolfpack is sophomore outside hitter Mackenzie Husaby, who played varsity as a ninth-grader last fall.
New Royals head coach Cassie Cahill was a player on some of the best Woodbury volleyball teams in recent history. Her mission now is to lead the Royals to a return of those glory days. Woodbury was 23-9 in 2007, 24-5 in 2008 and 19-10 in 2010, which was Cahill's senior year at the high school. Since then, however, the Royals have struggled to be competitive in the talented Suburban East Conference. Woodbury was just 6-21-1 overall last season and 1-7 in the SEC.
It's a whole new ball game for New Life Academy football with a new name and cooperative team. The Eagles will fly under the football banner of the Academy Force this fall. Academy Force will be comprised of players from New Life Academy, St. Croix Prep Academy, Twin Cities Academy, Liberty Classical Academy and Mounds Park Academy. The decision to reconfigure the program was necessary for New Life to have a viable football team going forward, said Eagles athletic director Kevin Kleiner.
Park football has thrived since the arrival of the district system, going 6-3 and 7-3 the last two seasons while narrowly missing a trip to state last fall. But this season the Wolfpack will have a different look — at least on offense — as multi-talented quarterback Brandon Alt has taken his arm, legs, leadership and football savvy to Bemidji State University. Alt was a four-time letter winner and three-year starter at quarterback for the Wolfpack, basically rewriting all of Park's passing records.
The New Life Academy Eagles were just 13-17 last season and lost most of the key players off that team. Still, New Life head coach Wally Bomgren likes his team's chances. "Most of our starters are gone — eight girls who played regularly," Bomgren said. Despite the inexperience, the Eagles are still gaining the attention of other teams in the state. "But even with that we are ranked No. 1 in our section," Bomgren said. "We have a No. 14 rank in the state for our small school size. So we're excited about that."