RIPON — It may be Erin Cutino’s proudest moment as Ripon’s girls volleyball head coach this season, and the Indians didn’t even win the set.
Traditional rival Escalon capitalized on a wave of Ripon miscues that allowed it to go on a 12-1 run and take a 20-10 lead in the second game of Tuesday’s Trans-Valley League showdown at North Gym.
Cutino called a timeout at one point to get her team to snap out of it.
The Indians responded.
Mia Van Lewen, who had a big night overall, halted the Cougars’ momentum with a stuff block on Peyton Arnold, and Ripon scored seven unanswered points to make it respectable. The rest of the match belonged to the Indians, who prevailed 25-23, 19-25, 25-18, 25-23.
“Escalon’s a great team that plays with a lot of heart,” Cutino said. “They’re always competitive, but we were gunning for them tonight. We lost to them last time, so we made sure we were ready.”
Ripon (5-2 TVL, 7-8 overall) has had some growing up to do since losing five starters from the 2016 TVL and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship squad, and Tuesday’s effort was another confidence boost for the young club. The Indians have won five of their last six since dropping a four-set decision at Escalon (5-3, 12-8) on Oct. 14. Included in that pivotal stretch was a surprising sweep of much-improved Hughson (5-3, 14-7), which was in second place going into that match.
“Huge, huge amount of the growth since the last time,” Cutino said. “They play with a lot more confidence now. Before, when they would start to get down on themselves, it was hard to pull them out of it.
“We had a brief run in the second game where it kind of dropped off, but they got it back by the end of the game and kept it up for the rest of the match.”
There were seven lead changes in the competitive fourth set. The widest margin was at four when sophomore middle blocker Alyssa Barrios’ kill pushed Ripon to a 19-15 advantage.
The Cougars quickly crawled back into contention and recaptured the lead at 23-22 on a dink from Hannah Murphy.
That was when Ripon looked to veteran outside hitter Makayla Buie, one of just four seniors on the team. She ended a riveting rally with a spike down the left sideline to tie it back up, and Van Lewen followed with a scoring tip. Match point was gift-wrapped for the Indians thanks to a net violation on Escalon.
“Makayla is a leader on our court who plays with a lot of passion and intensity — she brings it every single game,” Cutino said. “For her having those big moments are very well deserved because she works very hard for it.”
Van Lewen paced Ripon with 18 kills. Jessica Stanley contributed six blocks and three aces. Rachel Saucedo amassed 31 assists, and Deven Stokes had 24 digs.
Cutino believes the best has yet to come for Ripon, which can clinch a playoff berth Thursday — the top four teams out of the TVL advance — with a win over Modesto Christian (1-6, 3-10). Then the Indians take on TVL-leading Hilmar (8-0, 18-9) next Tuesday, Oct. 17.
“There is so much more room for growth, and that’s what’s exciting about having a young team,” Cutino said. “There’s unbelievable potential.”