Andriel Aimua saw many of the sports teams at East Ridge High School win, gain popularity and establish themselves as solid programs in the metro area.
She wanted the girls’ golf team to join that same category.
The Raptors’ first conference title in the school’s relatively short history this spring helped them do just that.
“That’s a really great step,” said Aimua, a junior. “East Ridge has so many teams — football, soccer — but they have no golf identity to be able to show off and say, ‘Hey, this is our school and this is who represents us in golf.’ ”
It wasn’t an easy journey.
East Ridge spent the first five weeks of the season in the wrestling room because of the never-ending winter. The team stumbled midseason at a Highland National 18-hole event, where it finished near the bottom half of the pack.
In the past two weeks of the season, the Raptors caught and passed the incumbent champions from Forest Lake. They captured the program’s first Suburban East Conference title by winning the 18-hole conference meet at Oak Glen Golf Club in Stillwater.
Head coach Mark Retica was pleased, but he wasn’t surprised.
“Our No. 1 through 6, when they play to their ability, I would stack them up against anybody,” Retica said. “They’re a good squad and they can shoot good scores. The fact that they chased down Forest Lake and were able to win the Suburban East Conference was a big deal for them. It was something that they really took a lot of pride in. It was a fantastic moment for all of the girls.”
Up next was the section tournament — and the roller coaster ride continued.
The Raptors shot 325 on the first day at Phalen, which gave them a three-shot lead over Eastview and an 18-shot lead over third-place Eagan.
Two days later at Bunker Hills, the final round was accompanied by blustery conditions and even a one-hour rain delay. At the end of the day, the Raptors found themselves tied — with Eagan. The Wildcats surged on a challenging day to overcome an 18-shot deficit and draw even with East Ridge with 684 strokes apiece.
The Minnesota State High School League’s tiebreaker was the two-day total of each team’s fifth score, which Eagan won.
The girls were bummed, but the story wasn’t over. Taylor Anderson qualified for state as an individual. Teammates Molly Richardson and Aimua had to go into a sudden-death playoff for the fifth and final individual honors to play at state.
“It was very emotional,” Aimua said of the playoff against her teammate. “I was shocked. I didn’t expect to have that happening. There was a huge run of emotion. We could have avoided it but it had to be done.”
Aimua clinched the berth on the first playoff hole.
“You couldn’t put a whole lot more drama on a girls’ golf team than that right there,” Retica said.
The Raptors have no seniors on the roster. Juniors comprise the bulk of the lineup. Upcoming freshmen and sophomores are looking strong, meaning a bright future for East Ridge girls’ golf. Several of them have the potential to play college golf.
The Raptors took a big step this year and are looking forward to next season. But for now, Aimua and Anderson are focused on one thing: state.
“I’m very happy for the opportunity,” Aimua said. “This week I’m preparing to show everyone how East Ridge plays. We’re here to represent East Ridge.”