DAVIS — The clock almost literally struck midnight for Ripon Christian’s volleyball team Thursday at UC Davis.
Figuratively, it did.
In the last of six Sac-Joaquin Section championship matches to be completed, the No, 4 Knights struggled to get into a groove and lost in four competitive games (22-25, 25-20, 19-25, 23-25) to No. 2 Bear River in the Division IV finale. The contest started about an hour and 10 minutes after its scheduled start time of 8 o’clock, and ended a quarter till 11.
This is the first season that the Knights (27-7) — winners of 15 SJS Division V titles, including the last five —are competing in Division IV. Bear River coach Matt MacDonald, who led the Bruins to their third section title (1991, 1998), was impressed.
“We heard a ton about them,” he said. “When you win five section titles in a row and 15 overall, people are going to pay attention no matter what division you’re in. … They are unbelievable.”
But RC was not at its best Thursday night, though the Knights showed considerable grit to stay in the hunt throughout.
In the final set, Bear River (30-12) appeared to be well on its way to victory with a 19-16 lead. Ripon Christian went down fighting, clawing back with a 5-1 run capped by back-to-back kills from Brittany Petlansky and Andie Shelton. Stephanie Van de Pol’s kill made it 23-22 RC, but the Knights gave up the final three points on two straight net fouls and a serve-receive error.
“There’s no way we wanted to go five,” MacDonald said. “With those girls having that much section experience and having been in so many big matches, we did not want to go to a fifth game. That was big for us to stay poised and close it out.”
Sara Schell was fittingly on the service line for Bear River’s final points. The Bruins’ standout 6-foot outside hitter came into the match averaging close to five kills per set, and she shined during critical moments. Bear River’s taller front line, which also includes junior OH Kirsten Pereiera, gave RC fits.
“They are a really good team and they had hitters coming from everywhere (but) I wouldn’t say that our difficulties came from our height,” said middle blocker Cassidy De Rousse, who turned in six kills and four blocks for the Knights. “Our strength is picking up everything that they give us, and that was not on today like it usually is.”
The way the match ended was similar to how it started for the Knights, who trailed 10-1 at one point in the opening set. Hitting errors, overpasses and ball-handling violations were among the uncharacteristic mistakes they made during that stretch. Bear River was awarded its 10th point when RC was penalized for a positional overlap.
Ripon Christian found a way to put itself in position to steal the game after Kristy Van Diver’s thunderous kill shrunk Bear River’s lead to 20-18. Head coach Tiger Shelton was then yellow carded for reasons he was still unsure of after the match, but the delay in action clearly slowed RC’s momentum.
“We were out of sync the whole night,” Shelton said. “Every time we took a step forward, something weird would happen, whether it’s our serve receive all of the sudden failing, or us getting called for a double (touch) or whatever. We just couldn’t get it going like we normally do. We’re better than how we played, and we know that.”
Andie Shelton, whom MacDonald called “the best setter we’ve ever seen and played against so far,” led the team with five kills, 28 assists and four blocks. Van Diver racked up 15 kills, while Petlansky and Van de Pol added six apiece. Petlansky also paced the Knights with 22 digs. Libero Kaylie Colyn tallied 15 digs and five aces.
The good news for RC is that its season isn’t over yet, as all SJS finalists earn berths to the NorCal tournament. Seeds will be determined Sunday, and first-round contests will take place next Tuesday.