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Phenomenal: Ridgewater tops West in five tough sets

Minnesota West Bluejays

WORTHINGTON -- Midway through the fifth and final set, the Minnesota West Lady Jays were joyfully jumping.

And so was the joint.

“That was incredible, exactly what college volleyball is supposed to be,” said Ridgewater College coach Erica Smith, whose Warriors edged Minnesota West 3-2 Friday night in a dramatic conference match at the Bluejays’ Center for Health and Wellness. “It was phenomenal on both ends.”

Ridgewater, which has won four national championships, edged the Lady Jays 20-25, 25-18, 25-19, 16-25, 15-13.

The match was especially tight in the last set as Minnesota West took a 6-2 lead in the race to 15 points.

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A loud crowd got louder.

Indeed, the fifth set had a little bit for everybody: points punctuated by athletes taking turns with celebratory screams, loud and upbeat music during timeouts to inspire a spirited crowd and, ultimately, a near upset of a nationally-ranked team.

“It’s so much fun,” said Minnesota West freshman Tyra Medicine Horn. “We try to stay positive and keep each other pumped up. That’s the best part, to be honest.”

It was Ridgewater that played the best down the stretch. Morgan Gronli had 11 kills and Lydia Wagner added eight. Both had some key moments in the final set.

Medicine Horn noted how close the match was.

“They out-did us 101 to 100 (in total points),” she said. “Take away our mistakes and we could have won.”

Smith hesitated when asked what made the difference.

“Our girls are fighters,” said the Ridgewater coach with a smile. “They have a never-quit attitude.”

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Minnesota West got 37 set assists from Westbrook sophomore Emma Woelber. Former Heron Lake-Okabena star Kiana Leighty had 34 digs and 14 kills.

Ridgewater, which won national titles in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2011 and was ranked one spot above the Lady Jays in the MCAC Southern Division preseason poll, improved to 8-3 overall and 3-2 in the league.

“Traditionally they’re right here,” said McNab while raising a hand above her head to mark an imaginary level. “They always come out solid.

“But it’s on us. We just have to figure out how to put the ball away. We have to trust each other. We can’t give them free balls to hit back at us.”

Medicine Horn was a standout. The athletic freshman from Lake Andes, S.D., had nine kills and eight blocks.

“This whole week she has been on top of her game, in practice day in and day out,” McNab said. “It comes from practice. That’s where we get the little things we bring into the game.”

Leighty, the versatile 5-6 hitter from Brewster, also performed well.

“She’s always solid,” McNab said. “If she’s in the back row she’ll pick up every ball she needs to. Always does a great job.”

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The Jays received contributions from many athletes. In the final set, McNab inserted freshman Emily Wilke to serve. And she immediately recorded an ace.

Moments later McNab put freshman Coralis Ramos in the front row, and the Puerto Rico native responded with three consecutive kills to give Minnesota West a 6-2 lead.

“We were trying to find someone to finish, and she will,” McNab said. “We’ve just got to work more with her, because she’s got a killer swing. She really does.”

The Jays (7-4, 1-3) are back at home Saturday at noon for another MCAC Southern Division clash with Minnesota State-Fergus Falls, which is ranked fourth in the recent NJCAA Division III top 10.

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