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Fifth straight section title within RCs reach
Capital Christians Holly Ailman passes the ball off the net while Ripon Christian standouts Andie Shelton (11) and Mikaela Alger (5) protect their end of the court in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division-V playoff semifinal Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

Ripon Christian’s volleyball team will venture to familiar territory today.

And a familiar opponent awaits.

The top-seeded Knights (26-13) encounter No. 7 Bradshaw Christian (13-15) for a third straight year in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-V playoff finals at UC Davis. Ripon Christian coasted to a sweep in 2009, but in 2010 Bradshaw was far more competitive in a four-game loss, 18-25, 25-23, 20-25, 22-25.

A win today would make it five straight section titles for RC along with an SJS-best 15 overall.

“We practiced as usual (Wednesday) and pretty much worked on whatever we had to work on,” said Ripon Christian coach Tiger Shelton said. “We’ll go in there, give them a fight and see what happens. They’re definitely not going to just give it to us — they’ll be ready. They’re used being there, too.”

Bradshaw Christian of Sacramento has a seasoned trio of senior returners in 6-foot-2 middle blocker Janai Johnson, setter Katie Brennan and 5-7 outside hitter Paige Benson. Rachel Byerly is also an experienced front-row player having played significant time as a freshman last year. They led the Pride to a second-place tie in the Sierra Delta League.

Shelton is especially familiar with Johnson, whom he coaches on the Delta Valley Volleyball Club team.

“That’s their leader, their big middle,” Shelton said. “I know her very well. She’s their go-to player.”

Ripon Christian, the two-time defending champion of the Southern League, will counter with super sophomore Andie Shelton, a talented setter with game-changing ability as a hitter.

Veteran junior Brittany Petlansky was a libero last year but has an expanded role as an all-around threat with Kaylie Colyn taking over her old job. Twins Mikaela and Morgan Alger have taken on more significant workloads up front.

Coach Shelton has lauded the play of sophomore Teagan Manus, who has had to fill in at middle blocker with returning junior Cassidy De Rousse missing most of the year with an ailment. Emily Leahy left a big void in the middle after graduating last year, and De Rousse was the heir apparent. Manus, at 5-9, is undersized for the position, but her growing confidence and natural athleticism have made up for it.

“Teagan has done great,” Shelton said. “She got thrown into the fire when Cassidy went down, because that happened right before we played against teams like Archbishop Mitty, St. Mary’s, Rocklin and Cesar Chavez. She gained a lot of experience and confidence from that.”

Today’s match could very well be Ripon Christian’s last at Division V in the section. Win or lose, its season continues with the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships next week.

For basketball and volleyball, the SJS will begin moving teams up a division next season should they win a third straight section title. It’s a rule that was adopted this year, but the last two will be counted. Teams affected by the three-in-a-row rule will remain at that division until it wins three more (meaning they move up again) or fails to qualify for the postseason, which would knock it back down to its original division.

“I don’t think we belong in D-IV because of enrollment, but I think we can hang,” Shelton said. “We’ve had an incredible run, no doubt, but we’re not always going to be (playing) at this level.”