Sophomore James Tidd, practicing the breaststroke, is part of a bevy of young talent on East Ridge’s surprisingly strong swimming squad. Photo by Jeff Wheeler • firstname.lastname@example.org
While senior-dominated Eden Prairie might be the heavy favorite in boys' swimming this year, coach Steve Webb's fourth-ranked Raptors have no seniors on his roster. But that hasn't stopped the Raptors from jumping up the rankings on the basis of some impressive performances this winter.
Powered by a strong senior class, East Ridge had placed eighth in last year's Class 2A state meet. So starting this season with two impressive victories, especially in dominating a talented Mounds View team, was an eye-opener for Webb.
"[Mounds View's] coach said, 'I've never seen kids improve so much in one year like this team,'" said Webb, who is in his second year as coach of the Raptors. "It's crazy. They worked so hard in the offseason, and we jumped right into it. I didn't expect that."
The surprises didn't stop there.
Shortly after the victory over the Mustangs, East Ridge knocked off powerhouse Stillwater 95-91 in December. Just like that, the Suburban East Conference title became East Ridge's to lose.
The victory carried extra meaning because Stillwater handed the Raptors their only loss last season.
"I think that's a lot of motivation from last year -- losing to them," Webb said. "They're just so deep over there in Stillwater, so it's really nice to get the win there.
"We definitely wanted that one. Stillwater never loses in dual meets, really, so we were pretty fired up."
Junior Sam Scholz, who swam on the 400-yard relay team that clinched the victory over the Ponies, and sophomore Kent Rabideaux are the lone returnees who competed at the state meet last season.
Clearly, this isn't just a one-and-done year of accomplishment at East Ridge High School, which opened in 2009. Webb has a bevy of young, hard-working talent that could be on the cusp of greatness.
"We have a lot of other guys that are about at that level where they can compete and score at the state meet, too," Webb said. "If we can get those guys up and running either this year or next year, we're really going to be good."
East Ridge further established itself on the swimming scene with a third-place performance in the Maroon and Gold Invite's Gold Division three weeks ago at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
The Raptors placed ahead of Edina and just five points behind Minnetonka while the favorites from Eden Prairie dominated.
Scholz, Rabideaux, sophomore James Tidd and junior Ryan Schiferl put together an impressive second-place showing in the 200-yard medley relay.
Sophomores Pierce Fierbaugh and Garrett Verhoeven are each making strides in the 200 and 500 freestyles, inching toward state meet times. Several other swimmers are bolstering the up-and-coming squad as well.
By all indications, East Ridge will improve on last year's state meet showing. It's just a matter of how much.
"We're focusing on the end of the year since our two biggest dual meets were the first two of the year," Webb said. "That's really all we care about at this point is how we perform at state."