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Focus pays off for River Ridge

The Knights hand Hudson its first loss and wrap up the SAC crown.

Published October 14, 2004

HUDSON - River Ridge was awash in potential distractions.

As they took the floor for warmups, the Royal Knights were greeted by a student in a volleyball-shaped hat waving a white Hudson flag. They practiced hitting into a phalanx of red and gold-clothed fans in scuba gear or wielding plastic swords.

They were coming off their first two losses of the season while facing a squad unbeaten in 17 straight.

And Homecoming was a day away.

Perhaps above everything else, River Ridge's ability to block out the distractions was the biggest factor in its surprisingly easy 25-18, 20-25, 25-15, 25-14 victory Wednesday at Hudson.

"That was our goal, to stay focused the whole way, not worry about anything else," River Ridge coach Heidi Castelamare said. "Not worry about the refs, not worry about the fans, not worry about the coaches. Just worry about the play on the court."

By taking as many games from Hudson (three) in one night as the Cobras (17-1) had yielded all season, River Ridge (17-2) clinched the Sunshine Athletic Conference title and avenged a loss last season that created a three-way tie for first.

"Last year we lost to them and it was a big upset, so I'm really glad we pulled it out this year," said River Ridge outside hitter Tricia Thomas. "We were all real psyched for the game."

River Ridge set the tone in the first game, using a 9-1 run to turn a 9-6 deficit into a 15-10 lead. Joy Barquin had seven service points, and Kelly Bruce and Tarah Bigger added three kills each.

Installing Sara Hampshire as its libero, Hudson came back to win the second game. The move strengthened the Cobras defense and limited their substitutions.

But River Ridge took control in the third game behind Thomas' six kills and Brittany Castelamare's six service points, and stormed to an insurmountable 22-8 lead in the fourth.

"We weren't running our offense, playing defense, we just were not doing our jobs," Hudson coach Linda McQuade said. "We just couldn't get our momentum going."

River Ridge honed its game at the Orlando Bishop Moore tournament this past weekend, where it sustained its first two losses of the season.

"It was nerve-wracking that they were undefeated and we were undefeated," said Thomas, who finished with 13 kills and four blocks. "But we were in a very tough tournament this weekend with state champs, state finalists, so I really think that this tournament improved us, because it was stronger teams."

Brittany Castelamare handed out 41 assists. Bigger had eight kills despite feeling ill, and Bruce added seven. Hampshire led Hudson with 12 digs.

[Last modified October 14, 2004, 08:39:16]


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