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Tournament draw is a tough one for South Ridge

Longtime Carlton volleyball coach Barb Soukkala sent a note to Brad Olesiak following the Panthers victory over Northeast Range in the section finals. “Congratulations,” it read, “remember to sit back and enjoy and don’t forget to take in the whole experience.”

That advice is what coach Olesiak gave his players, who were the first South Ridge volleyball team to make it to the state tournament.

“We are there to compete and play well and hope we can win, but remember to look around and feel this whole experience because you will remember this forever,” he said. “Twenty years from now you will look back and talk about the state tournament regardless of how the team finished.”

Although the Panthers didn’t get the results they were hoping for, the atmosphere at the Xcel Energy Center was something the Panthers won’t soon forget.

South Ridge opened play at the Class A state volleyball tournament Thursday by squaring off against the Class A top-ranked and top-seeded team Mayer Lutheran. It was the Crusaders who started fast and never looked back, defeating the Panthers by a final score of 3-0.

“We came out a little bit in awe,” Olesiak said. “This team was fast: they played fast, passed the ball well and finished even better.” The Crusaders won the opening set 25-4, allowing the Panthers one kill in the entire match, and seeing South Ridge commit 13 errors in that loss.

The Crusaders started the second set much like the first set: controlling play and building up an early lead. Although South Ridge battled and played much better, Mayer Lutheran took the second set 25-10 to take a 2-0 lead.

The Crusaders’ two Division I standouts continued to dominate in the third set and Mayer Lutheran went on to the three-set sweep with a final score of 25-16.

Kelly Bergum led South Ridge with five kills on the night, Bella Schneider ended with 10 set assists, while Adella Olesiak had 13 digs in the loss for the Panthers.

After falling in the quarterfinals, South Ridge met Breckenridge in the consolation semifinals Friday afternoon. Although the Panthers played better than they did on Thursday, the Cowgirls — who had lost only three times all season long — swept South Ridge to advance to the consolation finals.

“Friday I think we played much better,” Olesiak said. “It was mistakes and miscues that really hurt more than anything.”

The two teams battled back and forth in the first set with Breckenridge leading most of the set, but South Ridge continued to fight before falling in the first set 25-17.

The Cowgirls beat South Ridge in the second set 25-16 in a hard-fought set, and the Cowgirls finished the sweep with a 25-8 victory in the third and final set.

“We came out more ready to play then we did Thursday,” Olesiak said. “I think when we lost the second set after having several leads and keeping it so close till the end, the third set the wind was kind of let out of our sails.”

Svea Snickers finished with 12 kills against Breckenridge, while Schneider added 18 more set assists, and Olesiak ended with 15 digs while Phylesha Preston had 14 digs and Bergum ended with 13 for South Ridge.

“I am so proud of this team and how hard they worked all season long.” Olesiak said. He talked about using this as a learning experience for the future. The Panthers finished the season with an overall record of 21-7.