Senior captain Margaret Eggert is one of the star players who have helped East Ridge to a 7-2 record in Suburban East play. Photo by RICHARD TSONG-TAATARII • firstname.lastname@example.org
The East Ridge volleyball team is trying to gain and sustain momentum, for now and the future, amid a swirl of transition and change. In just the fourth year of the school's existence, it is being directed by its third head coach, Erin Nickleby.
She knows that's not an easy situation for the kids.
"As someone who was in athletics, I think that would be really hard. Lots of change," said Nickleby, who's been coaching at the high school and junior Olympic levels for 12 years, including assistant stints at Park and Eastview. "I would imagine it would be hard to trust, 'Is that coach going to be here next year? Are they going to be in and out? Do I buy in? Do I not?'
"I think that can be really hard in developing that rapport with them -- that trust."
Whatever Nickleby did, it's working. The team bought into the former University of Wisconsin-River Falls player's philosophy and beliefs right away.
"It's been a smooth transition throughout the year to watch them grow and build and learn based off the things that I brought to the program," Nickleby said.
That transition has translated into a 7-2 conference record, good enough for second in the Suburban East. The Raptors did lose some nonconference games early on -- ones they felt they should have won -- and garnered a sixth seed in their section before opening the playoffs with a sweep over White Bear Lake.
East Ridge started to take off at the Eastview tournament a couple of weeks ago. Senior captain Margaret Eggert saw her teammates gain some serious traction.
"I don't know what happened there," Eggert said. "All of a sudden it just clicked."
The Raptors also consider themselves a come-from-behind team. Because they're young, they sometimes start slowly. A few weeks ago, the girls trailed Stillwater by 11 points in a conference match before battling back and winning.
"We have ups and downs, but we finish games," senior Tess Kelzenberg said. "That's our strong point."
Anchoring the team are Eggert and Kelzenberg, two seniors who've been with the club since the school opened four years ago. They have been playing together since eighth grade and play off each other like sisters.
"She's the rock," Kelzenberg said of Eggert. "She's the one we can go to. She's able to finish points and finish games."
They bring experience, leadership and skill to the court. Eggert leads the team in kills. Kelzenberg leads in assists.
The rest of the crew is rather young, resulting in lineup tweaking and tinkering throughout the year. As a whole, the girls have done well accepting their roles, as many of them have changed from week to week and match to match.
Nickleby sees a winning formula and, perhaps most importantly, says she will be back next season to lead the Raptors. While the previous coaching changes might have been difficult, Eggert said she thinks it's been a blessing in disguise for this young program.
"If we didn't go through the other ones, we never would have found coach Nickleby," Eggert said. "I think she's been the best fit so far."