It not only marks the first time the volleyball team has reached the round of eight, but the first time any of the school’s varsity athletic programs have gone as far in postseason play.
After soundly beating Grady last Thursday in their state playoff debut, River Ridge beat Cross Creek 25-13, 25-11, 25-21 to advance to the quarterfinals.
“This win feels incredible,” River Ridge coach Jeff Kirk said. “Our girls are so excited to advance to the next round. From the opening day of our season, we had two goals. One was to win the area, which we did, and the other was to finish in the top ten in the state. We feel that by making it into the elite eight, we’ve reached that goal tonight.”
Area 6AAAA champion River Ridge (27-11) and the other seven teams that remain in contention for the state title will be reseeded before playing again Saturday.
One of River Ridge’s key players on the night was Mlaska, who seemed almost unstoppable at times in front of the net.
“Jess came up huge for us (Tuesday),” Kirk said. “She is such a dominant player in the front row. We really rely on her.”
Mlaska’s dominance was evident early on, as her five kills in the first set helped the Lady Knights race out to an early lead and eventually win the set comfortably 25-13.
Mlaska wouldn’t be the only River Ridge player to excel on the night.
With Mlaska sitting most of the set out, freshman Sophie O’Hare, sophomore Abby Skinner and junior Molly Herring filled the void, totaling eight kills between them to lead the Lady Knights to a 25-11 victory.
Cross Creek (19-11) didn’t go away quietly, however, playing its best set of the night in what would prove to be the third and final one.
The teams found themselves tied at 5-all, 10-all, and 14-all before River Ridge took a slim lead.
Then, at 24-21, a block by Mlaska and other members of the Lady Knights’ front row scored the match-clinching point.
Mlaska finished the night with a team-high 13 kills, while O’Hare finished with eight and Skinner finished with six.
Katie Tyler led the Lady Knights with 34 assists, while Herring had nine digs.
Despite the shaky third set, Kirk was pleased with his team’s performance.
“The first two sets we were spot on,” he said. “When our passing and defense is on, our front row will take care of the ball, and they did. We did struggle a little bit in the third set. We missed a few serves and our passing wasn’t where it needs to be. Still, overall, our performance was good.”
For Mlaska, the berth into the state quarterfinals was well justified.
“This feels amazing,” she said. “I’m surprised that we’ve got this far, but we’ve worked hard for it, and we really deserve it. I am so proud of our team.”