One thing was instantly clear Tuesday night in Columbia River’s J. Hoover Gymnasium.
High school volleyball in Southwest Washington was back to normal.
Two top-level teams met on the court cheered on again by two enthusiastic and boisterous student sections.
And again, the Ridgefield Spudders came out on top.
Sparked on by some newer players, the Spudders beat Columbia River in three sets, 25-19, 25-19, 25-21 in a key early-season 2A Greater St. Helens League match.
Junior Paige Stepaniuk was just a freshman the last time the Spudders played for and captured a 2A state title in 2019.
Although not the biggest player at 5-foot-6, Stepaniuk played big, delivering a series of kills that helped rally the Spudders out of an early deficit in the third set.
“I’m not super tall; I’m usually the libero,” Stepaniuk said. “So in my head, I’m like ‘get it in, get it playable.’ That’s my job. And when it’s a kill, that’s just an extra push for me to do ever better.”
She finished with 14 kills from the outside when River’s blockers focused on Ridgefield’s players in the middle like 6-5 sophomore Elizabeth Andrew and 6-1 senior Emily Vossenkuhl.
Andrew had 13 kills and five blocks, while Vossenkuhl had eight kills and four blocks. Emily Paul had 20 digs, and Morgan Harter added 44 assists.
The victory was the Spudders’ fifth three-set win of the season, but this was certainly a tougher battle than Ridgefield’s previous four.
“It was really fun to play a team that kind of like held with us,” Stepaniuk said. “They played well, and they play with each other because they’re a good team.”
Rylie Reeves led River with 14 kills and 12 digs. Lauren Dreves added eight kills and 10 digs, Sydney Dreves had 18 digs and Caroline Hansen had 23 assists.
River led 16-15 in the first set, before Ridgefield finished strong, capping the set on a kill from Stepaniuk.
The Rapids were within 15-14 in the second set, but the Spudders pulled away, again with a Stepaniuk kill to end the set.
In the third set, River ran off six straight points late to creep within 22-21 before Ridgefield sealed the victory — a block by Vossenkuhl ending it.
“Every game we go into, we don’t think about who is on the other side of the net,” Stepaniuk said. “We just play our game. And even though we know River is a really good team, we played calm. We played our game like we do every day.”
And when the Spudders needed a spark, the Ridgefield student section provided a lift.
“The fans really bring a different level of energy,” Stepaniuk said. “Last year, it felt like the game was going a lot slower because we didn’t have those fans cheering you on. And with them, it just brings the whole energy up.”