Ridgewater takes top ranking to nationals
WILLMAR -- It's no easy task being No. 1 all year but the Ridgewater College Lady Warriors have held up. They will take a 29-8 record and the honor of being the No. 1-seed to the national tournament starting Friday in Rochester. With all that com...
WILLMAR -- It's no easy task being No. 1 all year but the Ridgewater College Lady Warriors have held up.
They will take a 29-8 record and the honor of being the No. 1-seed to the national tournament starting Friday in Rochester.
With all that comes a complimentary target on their collective backs.
Ranked first in NJCAA Division III from the first poll released in August, the Lady Warriors are yet to lose to a college in their division. Losses came in tournament play against Division I or II colleges.
Ridgewater also goes in as the national champion. Four players are back from that team.
"The nationals are intense," said Jenna Olson, a sophomore defensive specialist from Willmar. "You have to concentrate all the time. We need to start out strong and stay strong."
Second-year coach Joe Sussenguth has had two weeks to prepare. That's a long time not to have a match.
"We took a couple of days off last week," he said. "The most important thing is to be in good shape. We've polished up a few things and installed some additional offense. We've gotten better.
"We try to stay sharp by playing 30-point games. We're fortunate. We're 12 deep so the games are very close no matter how we split up."
Each of the eight teams at nationals will play three 3-game sets in pool play the first day. The two best records in each pool advance to the championship semifinals on Saturday when matches become best-of-five.
Ashley Hennen, a sophomore libero from Minneota, has ample tournament experience. She played for Minneota's Class A 2005 state runner-up team.
"The level of excitement is definitely higher when you get to nationals," she said, "and you're always a little nervous."
Ridgewater went undefeated in the Southern Division (10-0) and through the state tournament (5-0) and Region 13A qualifier (2-0).
Sussenguth took his team to Des Moines and Arizona for tournaments where they faced nationally-ranked teams in the upper divisions.
"I think the coaches looked at that and that figured into us getting the top seed," said Sussenguth.
Comparing this team to a year ago, he gives this year's squad the edge in talent but the national champions had more grit -- they could grind out a win against teams with more talent.
Ridgewater opens against Catawba Valley of Hickory, N.C. Earlier Friday morning the team from Willmar can scout their two other foes in Pool A when Rock Valley (Ill.) and Edison (Ohio) play at 10 a.m.
In Pool B, Brookhaven Community College of Dallas, Texas, bears watching. They were a semifinalist last year and play schedule loaded with D-I and D-II colleges. Central Lakes of Brainerd is also in Pool B. The Raiders and the Lady Warriors have played neck-and-neck the last two seasons.
Hitters Hilary Groothuis, a MACCRAY graduate, and Jackie Noyes from Minneota also return with NJCAA tournament savvy.