East Ridge senior Ella Ratzloff records a dig against Stillwater on Oct. 10 at East Ridge High School. Ratzloff had 29 digs in the 3-2 win. Photo by Carter Jones, SportsEngine
Sometimes, the best — or at least most honest — praise a player can receive is admiration from the opposing team’s fans.
That’s what East Ridge (16-7, 7-0) senior libero Ella Ratzloff received from a faction of Stillwater parents, as her Raptors beat the Ponies in five sets (25-15, 21-25, 26-24, 22-25, 15-9) Tuesday to earn a share of the Suburban East Conference title.
Ratzloff was everywhere for ninth-ranked East Ridge in the senior night win, and by the middle of the match, the Stillwater fans in the stands realized aloud that the fourth-ranked Ponies’ (16-6, 5-1) best hope was to hit it anywhere No. 3 in white was not.
“That’s the best part, I think of these matches,” Ratzloff said. “I love digging. Anything I can do to help my team out—getting balls up. You’ve just gotta have the mindset that nothing hits the floor.”
Ratzloff had 29 digs in the match, but maybe more impressive was the context of those plays. More often than not, a diving save became a pass right to setter Alaina Erickson, who recorded 58 assists. Ratzloff’s first pass was typically a good one, no matter how much effort it took.
“She always seems to get us back in system,” East Ridge coach Steve Anderson said. “We’re going from a dig into transition, and we’re able to run our middles. When you do that and put that pressure on the opponent that quickly, it just opens things up offensively. It’s tough to defend when you dig that ball right to the setter; you can run two or three options right from there.”
That first pass is often the difference between the offense running smoothly and a team scrambling to just get the ball back over the net. Ratzloff’s awareness on the court helped keep the Raptors clicking. That kind of skill is why she'll be playing for the University of Rhode Island next year.
“Definitely lots of reading (the play),” Ratzloff said of her mindset during points. “I’m always watching the hitters and where my team is, and where the holes are in the blocks, and I’ll fill those holes. You’ve just gotta to be really aware of what’s going on the court.”
As one of two senior players on the court for East Ridge, Ratzloff also offers leadership for a group that heavily relies a pair of freshmen outside hitters. Anderson called her the glue of the team.
“Sometimes you kind of forget about her because she just does her job, and she’s a quiet player—doesn’t play flashy, just always gets the job done," he said. "Unbelievable libero for us. Tonight… it seemed like she was digging every ball, left and right.”
The win over Stillwater was a big one, not just in sending East Ridge to a 7-0 mark in conference play, but also in terms of confidence. East Ridge lost five-set matches to No. 1 Eagan and No. 2 Lakeville North earlier in the year, and this was a key win over an elite opponent, regardless of the conference title implications.
That being said, it was as good a senior night as Ratzloff could have hoped for.
“That’s amazing,” she said. “I know for a fact East Ridge volleyball has never once been conference champs. As a senior, it’s pretty cool to end like that.”
Stillwater senior Mikayla Gjerde spikes the ball against East Ridge on Oct. 10. Stillwater fell to East Ridge in 5 sets. Photo by Carter Jones, SportsEngine
In what was essentially the 2017 Suburban East Conference championship game Tuesday night, East Ridge downed Stillwater and stayed unbeaten in conference play.
Ranked No. 9 in the Class 3A coaches poll, East Ridge (16-7) moved to 7-0 in conference play with a 25-15, 21-25, 26-24, 22-25, 15-9 win over fourth-ranked Stillwater (16-6, 5-1). The win helped the Raptors clinch at least a share of the Suburban East crown.
East Ridge took an early lead in the first set and put away a 25-15 win. The Raptors started with a big run early in the second, but Stillwater used a 9-1 run to tighten the game. The Ponies broke a 19-all tie to win 25-21 to tie the match.
A back-and-forth third saw East Ridge battle back from a late 20-18 deficit to come back and win 26-24 after a Stillwater hitting error.
Stillwater broke a 12-all tie in the fourth and took a 20-14 lead. East Ridge got within one point multiple times before the Ponies closed out a 25-22 win to force a fifth game.
East Ridge took a 10-5 lead in the fifth set, which they eventually won 15-9.
Kate Reimann had 17 kills for East Ridge, as did Lauren Galvin. Alaina Erickson had 58 assists and Ella Ratzloff had 29 digs.
Stillwater got 16 kills from Kayla Guerrero and 12 from Lexi Oeltjen. Setter Olivia Walsh had 45 assists.
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East Ridge freshman Lauren Galvin spikes the ball against Stillwater on Oct. 10. Galvin had 17 kills on the night. Photo by Carter Jones, SportsEngine