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Vander Molen cousins carry RC to brink of section final
Ripon Christian junior striker Travis Vander Molen leads the team in goals with 21, including two in a 3-0 win over Victory Christian on Thursday. - photo by James Burns


• WHAT: SJS Division VII playoffs

• WHO: No. 4 Forest Lake Christian at No. 1 Ripon Christian

• WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 12

• TIME: 3 p.m.

• ADMISSION: $6 Adults, $4 students, children 5-under are free

RIPON — When you’re cousins, so close in age and interests you may as well be brothers, you develop certain advantages in the athletic arena.

For instance, Danny Vander Molen knows how to put younger cousin Travis Vander Molen in the perfect spot, whether its framing a pitch, threading a chest pass or crossing a soccer ball. 

Likewise, Travis can always count on Danny to be nearby, flying around the court, the diamond and the pitch, wreaking havoc with his speed and tenacity.

This month, just like the last few, the Ripon Christian boys soccer team has reaped the rewards of this family connection. Next month it’s a new sport – basketball with head coach Ron Vander Molen, Travis’ dad – and after that, baseball.

For now, though, their all-around talents have helped buoy a record-setting season by the Knights’ boys soccer team. 

Top-seeded Ripon Christian can clinch a berth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII championship game with a win on Wednesday against Forest Lake Christian, the defending champion.

The Knights narrowly missed a date with Forest Lake Christian in last year’s final, but RC was knocked out in a penalty kick shootout by Faith Christian in the semifinal.

Ripon Christian has responded with an all-out assault on its record book. The Knights have won 20 games for the first time in at least 11 years, according to MaxPreps, capturing the Southern League crown in the process. 

No. 21 would clinch the program’s fourth appearance in a soccer section final. 

This kind of success is nothing new to the Vander Molen name — a family linked to many of the school’s shining moments. To that point, Travis and Danny are leading the Knights with the poise of star players who have been there, done that.

Travis raised his team-leading goal total to 21 with two more in Thursday’s 3-0 triumph over Victory Christian. He broke the ice with a powerful header in the 7th minute and then scored on a touch-back in the 12th minute.

Travis’ first goal was set up by his cousin, who whipped a corner kick into the penalty area. Danny’s target the whole way was Travis, a 6-foot-2 junior who plays the position like a power forward.

His specialty is winning balls in the air – and Travis knows it. On Thursday, Travis did all he could to get Danny that elusive third goal. He tried long throw-ins, crosses and passes through the defense. 

Though the hat trick proved elusive, the connection between the Knights’ standout forwards was undeniable.

“We’ve played together since we were 8-, 9-, 10-years-old. We know what our abilities are and we know which way (the defense is) going to run, so that chemistry really helps us out a lot,” said Travis, whose freshman brother, Jadon, is also on the team. “We try to keep the ball moving around and really force it on the defense.”

Victory Christian took its pounding on Thursday.

Danny put the game out of reach with a breakaway goal in the 47th minute, taking advantage of a blunder by the Vikings’ defense. Center back Mark Furtado misjudged a ball in the air and let it get by him, springing RC’s speedy senior.

All alone in front of the goal, Danny didn’t second-guess his finish, slotting a low-driven shot inside the right post for his 12th goal. Danny also has a team-high 11 assists, a dramatic improvement from his 2013 total of two. 

That upswing has manifested itself in Travis’ production.  He has a team-best 21 goals one year after netting 15.

The connection is real, forged through blood and bond, but their styles are also very complementary. Even if they weren’t related, Travis is certain Ripon Christian would still be in this position, fighting for a berth in the season’s final game. 

“Danny is really fast. He has good moves and that helps us a lot,” said Travis, a 2013 Bulletin All-Area selection. “He gets around people and then gets those crosses in. I’m in there, hopefully jumping up and getting that header.”