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Knights soldier on in rebuilding process

Shelton practicing patience following section title runs

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Knights soldier on in rebuilding process

Ripon Christian coach Tiger Shelton discusses the game plan with his players before they took the court against in-town rival Ripon Thursday.

JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin


POSTED October 9, 2009 2:20 a.m.
RIPON — Tiger Shelton, by his own admission, is a fiery individual.

The sixth-year head volleyball coach at Ripon Christian High isn’t shy about getting in his players’ faces for making mistakes.

But there he sat nearly motionless at the end of the bench while his Knights were being taught a lesson by host Ripon in the third of three games Thursday night. Save for a timeout, he hardly said a word.

The Indians did what was expected of them during a ho-hum sweep (25-14, 25-14, 25-11) of Ripon Christian. Ashley Robinson had eight kills, and Kelsey Johnston recorded 19 assists and six aces to lead the way.

Ripon (8-0, 21-5 overall) is riding a 32-match win streak in conference play. Meanwhile, Ripon Christian is 5-5 and in danger of missing the postseason for the first time in a longtime — so long that Shelton is having trouble pinpointing exactly when that happened last.

And if it happens this year, then so be it.

Has Shelton gone soft? Perhaps he’s already given up on the season.

Neither is the case.

“Right now they have to go through this,” he said. “They have to learn how to play the game, and there’s not much I can do. I can’t get upset. This is cutting teeth, the ups and downs that come with it. I just have to be patient.”

Shelton has sat in that seat before.

He had to rebuild a once proud and dominant volleyball program from scratch when he began his stint in 2004. The Knights made the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs out of the tough Division IV TVL, but with a losing record.

Slowly but surely, Ripon Christian made forward steps, going 14-9 in 2005 and 16-12 the following year while finishing with .500 records in both regular seasons.

Baby steps turned into a giant leap two years ago, when the Knights went 20-7, claimed a section championship and advanced as far as the semifinal round of the California Interscholastic Federation Regional Tournament.

Led by 6-foot-2 middle blocker Andrea Terpstra, now at the University of the Pacific, and 2008 Bulletin Most Valuable Player Candice Adema, Ripon Christian finished 21-15 and repeated as section champion and NorCal semifinalist last season.

Having been there, done that, Shelton’s frustrations are far less intense as they were in 2004. He only graduates three seniors this year, and only one, middle blocker Kelsey Tillema, plays significant minutes.

His starting six consists of all underclassmen, including freshman Britney Petlansky and sophomore twin sisters Morgan and Mikaela Alger. Mikaela led Ripon Christian with seven kills Thursday.

“The future looks real bright,” Shelton said. “I think the foundation is more solid right now compared to then. We have a good catalyst of young players here.”

One being junior setter Michelle Terpstra (16 assists), Andrea’s sister. The younger Terpstra backed up Adema last year as a sophomore, but Shelton thinks she was good enough then to start for most teams.

“It’s difficult,” Terpstra said. “We’re all trying really hard and staying positive. We know it’s going to get better, so we’re banking on that and doing the best we can.”

Terpstra and Shelton see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even Ripon head coach Larry Keethe is anxious to see how RC develops in the near future.

“Next year, they’re going to be pretty good,” he said. “And the following year, they’re going to be even better. What you saw tonight was an experienced Ripon team beat an up-and-coming Ripon Christian team, and they’re coming.”

But next year, they’re going.

Ripon Christian will move to the Division V Southern League. The move should help the current TVL’s smallest school be competitive in other sports, but that hasn’t always been a problem in volleyball.

The Knights own 12 section championships, the most in Sac-Joaquin volleyball history. That 13th section pennant may not come this year for Ripon Christian, but Shelton is in no hurry.

“I definitely don’t have that sense of urgency like I did before,” Shelton said. “I know what’s coming up and I’m pretty confident with what I have and what I’m going to get.

“When I first started I had to build all that.”

He built it, and the section championships came. And he doesn’t mind doing it all over again.
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