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Warriors to play for national championship

ROCHESTER, Minn. — The Ridgewater volleyball team will play for an NJCAA Division III national championship for a 10th time Saturday after winning semifinals and quarterfinals matches on Friday at the national tournament.

The Warriors defeated Jefferson (N.Y.) in three sets in the quarterfinals and advanced to the title match with a tough, five-set win over Eastfield (Texas) in the semis.

Ridgewater plays Harper (Illinois) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the UCR Regional Sports Center.

The Warriors, now 26-5, will be shooting for the program's fifth national championship against 42-1 Harper.

"Harper is a team that doesn't make many mistakes and they're good within both their offensive and defensive systems," said Ridgewater head coach Joe Sussenguth. "They're battle tested and they have been steady all year."

Harper defeated Ridgewater in three sets at the DuPage Tournament in Illinois in early September. However, the Warriors competed in the tournament after having their bus stranded by mechanical problems on Interstate 90 for five hours in the middle of the night on their way to the tourney.

The Warriors—who count four freshmen among their top five hitters—have grown considerably since then. Ridgewater enters the title match having won 16 of their last 17 matches. The lone loss in that stretch came in five sets against M State, a loss they avenged in three sets in the Region 13A championship match last week.

"These kids are fighters," Sussenguth said of his team. "They've done that ever since the beginning of the season when we lost (2015 All-American Natalie Feldhake) with a knee injury. They're used to adversity."

That was evident against Eastfield. The Warriors won the first two set handily, then dropped two to force a fifth set.

Eastfield served short exclusively, getting the Warriors out of any offensive flow, Sussenguth said.

"We've played a lot of five-setters (this season), so they've been in that position before," he said. "I told them to pocket those experiences because down the line you're going to use them."

The Warriors collected themselves and won 15-10 to clinch a 10th trip to the final. They're also prepared for a one-loss team, as Warriors team have been before them. In addition to four championships, Ridgewater has collected five runnerup finishes and a third-place finish since 1998.

"We know we're a different team in early September than we are now," Sussenguth said. "We have momentum and confidence and when you put those two together it doesn't matter what seed you are or what your record is."

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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