Volleyball: East Ridge upends Ponies in section quarterfinals

Stillwater’s Amelia Nora hits down the line during Game 3 of Thursday’s section quarterfinal loss against East Ridge.

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — A late rally fell short on Thursday as East Ridge held off the Stillwater volleyball team for a 3-2 victory in the Section 4AAA quarterfinals at Stillwater Area High School.

It was the second time in 10 days the Raptors defeated the Ponies in five games — and this one ended the season. In fact, Stillwater (17-11) went 1-6 in its last seven matches after East Ridge finished off its 25-19, 23-25, 14-25, 25-20, 15-13 victory on Thursday.

The Raptors advance to face second-seeded North St. Paul on Tuesday.

“It was a really good battle and you can’ take anything away from East Ridge,” Ponies coach Jamie Suapaia said. “At the same time, this has been the story of Stillwater volleyball this year. We put everything on our shoulders and depending on how we play determines the outcome. If we pass well, nobody competes well with us and when we don’t pass well the match can go either way.”

Gazette photos by Stuart Groskreutz
Stillwater’s Savannah Sprenger tries to block Jamie Swanson of East Ridge during Thursday’s Section 4AAA quarterfinal match at Stillwater Area High School.

After dropping Game 1, the Ponies rallied to claim the next two games before East Ridge answered with a victory in Game 4. The Raptors jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the deciding fifth game, but Stillwater climbed back to even the score at 13-all.

East Ridge called timeout after winning the next point and the Ponies were in position with the correct assumption the Raptors would look to senior outside hitter Margaret Eggert on match point.

“We knew it was going to go to their outside so we threw up a triple block and, unfortunately, she hit the one side of our of our block and it went down on our side,” Suapaia said. “If we were a half-a-foot to our left it would have been tied 14-all instead of 15-13.”

Unlike the fifth game when falling behind, the Ponies jumped out to 9-1 leads in each of the first two games. East Ridge battled back to win the opener and made a surge in Game 2 as well before the Ponies finished it off to even the match. Stillwater also looked strong while winning Game 3.

“In high school, it really does come down to passing and serving — if you can pass well and stay in system and if you can serve and get the other people out of system, that helps,” Suapaia said. “At times our serving was pretty strong and at other times it wasn’t very strong.”

Bri Horwath led the injury-plagued Ponies with 21 kills while Sophie Vick added 13 and Savannah Sprenger contributed 11. Stephanie Dietrich chipped in with seven kills. Janae Momchilovich racked up 29 set assists and 12 digs while Susan Evans provided 23 assists. Maddie Brandon totaled 26 digs while Sprenger and Vick each finished with 15.

The Ponies were not helped when Stephanie Houle suffered a concussion on Wednesday and Autumn Nyenhuis rolled her ankle in practice was unavailable for Thursday’s match.

“It happens,” Suapaia said. “We had the chips stacked against us with injuries. It wasn’t meant to be.”

And yet the first-year head coach will take many positives away from the season.

“This is a great first year for me to go and play like we did, unfortunately we had a little bit of downside at the end,” Suapaia said. “The record to me means nothing, it’s the level of improvement every kid has leaving the gym and I can honestly say every kid got better from the beginning to the end.

“I think the juniors and sophomores have seen that and we’re going to carry that on and we’re going to keep working hard when they come into the gym.”