By DAVE CAMPBELL
ROCKLIN – Experience is tough to beat sometimes. Saturday was no exception.
In just its second full year of competition, top-seeded Ripon Christian traveled to Whitney High School to take on No. 3 Bear River of Grass Valley for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III boys’ volleyball championship. After the two teams split the first two sets, the Bruins relied on their 20-plus years of experience to take the next two and with them the section championship by the scores of 25-22, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17.
“Winning that first game was huge just so we weren’t nervous about how we played,” Bear River coach Jonathan Good said. “When we’re not thinking about it these guys know what to do and are pretty hard to stop.
“In Game 2 we did what we tend to do which is loose a little focus. And then they started playing good. But in Games 3 and 4 we turned it on when we needed to. You could see when we got around 20-20 these guys really step up and we took it from there. This was our first time ever making it and to get the win was just extra special for the program.”
The first set, like all the sets, was extremely competitive. That is until Jace Rath toed the service line for the Bruins (26-5) with the Bruins trailing 16-15. Rath nailed four consecutive aces and the Knights (20-3) did not recover
“Jace Rath is just a sophomore,” Good said. “He knows what he is doing. He is from a volleyball family and when we need him to turn it on he gets even better. He leads the nation in aces and I think he is third in the section in kills and probably the No. 1 sophomore in the state in kills.
“He is just a great all-around player. He is our best passer, our best hitter, and he could be an incredible setter but he is too good at hitting.”
Ripon Christian battled back for the 25-22 second-set win. The Knights never trailed and the score was only tied once.
“Our guys have a lot of heart,” Knights coach Kevin Tameling said. “They have come back in tough games earlier in the season against Hilmar, Livingston and Lathrop when we had to fight tooth and nail for every point. Any one of those matches early in the season we could have lost but we didn’t.
“Bear River was just a tough team We have to be able to play better defense and pick balls up when they come at us. Our blocking was a little suspect.”
The third set was another nail-biter. There were five ties with the last at 19-19 before the Bruins pulled away on a 4-0 run behind three kills.
“Ripon Christian is really good,” Good said. “They had a great season with a bunch of really good hitters and they are a young team like us.
“They played really clean. They have missed a lot of serves but they didn’t do that a lot today. They didn’t have a lot of mental errors. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both these teams here next year.”
There was just two ties in the final set and they were early with the Knights having just one lead at 7-6.
Cade Alger had a double-double to lead Ripon Christian with 15 digs and 13 kills. Braden Van Groningen added 10 digs and nine kills, Jacob Van Groningen posted 11 digs and seven kills with Michael Kamps adding 15 assists and and Lukas Van Groningen 12.
“They were definitely a team we could have beat,” Alger said. “They were just something we hadn’t seen this year. We got down on ourselves early and if we see a team like that again we have to keep ourselves up with energy.
“This one hurt. I love the game of volleyball. I love all the sports I play and I am a very competitive person so I like to win. This exceeded our earlier expectations and it was a good year. Hopefully we will see them again in NorCals.”
Seeded sixth in Division III NorCals, the Knights travel to San Jose on Tuesday to face No. 3 Valley Christian at 7 p.m. in opening-round NorCal action.