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Road to San Jose begins today in NorCal opener

Ripon earns Division IV top seed, RC draws No. 4 in D-V

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Road to San Jose begins today in NorCal opener

Ripon High blockers Coryn Hernandez (9) and Paige Horwood combine to bat down Golden Sierra outside hitter Katie Christner's tip attempt during last Thursday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champ...

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED November 23, 2010 2:52 a.m.
In some ways, Ripon High volleyball coach Larry Keethe sees his team as an underdog despite its No. 1 ranking in the CIF Division IV State Championships, which begins today with Round 1 of the NorCal playoffs.

The Indians are making their fifth consecutive NorCal appearance tonight at 7 p.m. when they host No. 8 St. Helena of Napa Valley. They advanced to the NorCal finals in 2008 and 09 — the furthest any Ripon team has ever made it.

“We’re undersized and under everything to be considered a favorite, although I think we’re the best team if we play our best — and that’s a big ‘if,’” he said. “If the girls play their best, I think we’ll make our way to San Jose.”

Meanwhile, Ripon Christian (27-7) is seeded fourth in the Division V bracket and is set to square off with No. 5 Santa Catalina (18-11) of Monterey.

The state finals for all divisions take place on Dec. 4 at San Jose State.

Ripon (35-6) captured its first SJS banner in 27 years and fourth overall with a 3-0 sweep (25-21, 27-25, 25-21) of Golden Sierra.

The Indians have been on a tear.

Not counting best-of-three tournament contests, they’ve given up just four total sets all season — three of them coming in a four-game loss (Oct. 14) to Northern California’s top-seeded Division-I team, St. Mary’s of Stockton.

Junior Tyler White, a 6-footer, had been Ripon’s only contributor with decent height until she was lost for the season with a knee injury back in September.

That forced Keethe to pull up 5-foot-9 middle blocker Alyssa Leslie from the sophomore team, joining an already undersized front line that includes standouts Cheyann DePrue and Coryn Hernandez, who are also 5-9.

It’s the shortest lineup Keethe has had in his tenure as Ripon’s coach, but it has found ways to make up for it. With a talented setter in Kelsey Johnston, a recent signee to Cal State Monterey Bay, the Indians are able to vary their attack to keep opposing defenses off balanced.

But Keethe said it all starts with the back row led by senior libero Paulina Ceja.

“Our defense is exceptional. It’s as good as any other out there,” Keethe said.

St. Helena (28-4), which lost the North Coast Section match in four (19-25, 20-25, 25-19, 18-25), has a history of volleyball success having won state championships in 1982 and 1984.

Their recent accomplishments, however, make them a dangerous team despite the No. 8 seeding. As the No. 7 team in the NCS playoffs, they defeated the No. 2 and 3 Berean Christian and Salesian, respectively, to get to the final round.

The Saints have won five straight North Central League I titles and are led by Maddy Densberger — who averages 5.3 kills per game — and Callie Flood (2.7 kills).

For Ripon Christian coach Tiger Shelton, the Knights’ first-round opponent is one he is familiar with outside of the volleyball court.

His wife, Michelle, used to work for Santa Catalina, an all-girls school, and coached its volleyball team in the 1990s.

Shelton also knows the Cougars should not be taken lightly.

Santa Catalina upset highly-regarded Castilleja in the Central Coast Section playoffs and qualified for its first-ever section title match, where the Cougars fell in five (26-24, 25-16, 22-25, 21-25, 5-15) to Crystal Springs-Upland. Crystal Springs is the No. 2 team in NorCal.

Defensive specialist/outside hitter Annie Aldrete is just a sophomore and leads a promising core of athletes at Santa Catalina. Aldrete has verbally committed to the University of Tennessee for softball.

Freshman hitter Katie Griffith, sophomore setter Tierny Hightower and 6-3 middle Chloe Dlott are other noteworthy players.

“We didn’t play spectacular in our last match (a 25-18, 23-25, 25-20, 25-22 win over Bradshaw Christian), and that makes you a little nervous,” Shelton said. “We’re going to have to play well (tonight).”

Senior setter Michelle Terpstra, middle blocker Emily Leahy and freshman phenom Andie Shelton will have to be at their best on Tuesday and beyond should they get past Santa Catalina.

With the unfavorable No. 4 seed, the Knights would likely have to face defending state champion Branson of Ross on the road in the second round. Ripon Christian has one state title, which came in 1999.

With usual state-tournament qualifiers Marin Academy and Castilleja not making it to NorCal, Shelton believes his team could have been seeded 2 or 3.

“It’s hard to judge those things,” Shelton said. “It is what it is. If we play good ball, we can upset some people.”
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