COTTONWOOD — Sometimes home cooking works for you and sometimes it works against you. For the fourth-seeded West Valley Eagles volleyball team, it worked for them — until it did not.
With West Valley leading No. 9 Ripon Christian 1-0 and serving match point in the second set, the Knights’ Jordan Vander Veen slammed what appeared to be one of her patented kill shots, grazing the defender’s hand and going out of bounds to tie the game. After a referees’ conference, they determined the ball had not been touched by a defender and as such the second set went to the Eagles, sending the hometown crowd into a joyous frenzy.
Normally, a 2-0 advantage in a best of five contest is a pretty secure lead, but not when you are playing Ripon Christian. The Knights not only won the next two sets to tie the match, they never trailed in doing so and came through in the pivotal fifth set. In the final set after six ties and three lead changes, Ripon Christian scored four of the last five points to claim the match with scores of 22-25, 23-25, 25-19, 25-16, 15-12 in the semifinals of the CIF State NorCal girls volleyball championships.
“Officials make mistakes,” Knights coach Kayla Kootstra said. “And like I told the girls, that’s outside of our control, so we have to play well enough to where their mistakes aren’t dictating the outcomes of the games. In the first and second set we weren’t doing that. We made too many mistakes up to that point so when they missed that call that was the end of the game.
“In the first two sets we were disjointed and not playing as a team and we talked about that going into the third set. As a team we are stronger than we are individually and they came out and played and executed the way that we needed to starting in that third set and it was a whole new team from there on out.”
Vander Veen set up match point with a kill, sending Megan Weststeyn to the service line. West Valley (29-7) could not handle her offering, bobbling it for an illegal hit and giving Weststeyn a match-ending ace.
“I just wanted to do it for my team,” Weststeyn said. “I really wanted to end the match there and start celebrating.”
Westseyn was busy setting up the Ripon Christian hitters all night with a whopping 62 assists.
“It’s really nice when the passers get great balls up,” Weststeyn said. “I just want to set up my hitters for a good hit.”
The Knights shot out of the gates on fire in the third set with leads of 5-0, 11-5 and 15-7 before Sydney Hoffman (seven kills, three blocks) ended the match with a kill.
The fourth set was a little more competitive with the last of five ties at 9-9 before Ripon Christian went on a 9-2 run and coasted to the 25-16 win that was iced by a Vander Veen kill.
Vander Veen led the attack for the Knights with 38 kills and 19 digs.
“When we were down two sets nobody was ready to go home with a loss,” Vander Veen said.
“So that fired us up even more to try as hard as we could because we aren’t done yet and we really want to win state.”
Avery McMurray came up with two big kills for Ripon Christian (33-6) in the fifth set.
“Coach Kayla was a big part of helping us bounce back,” McMurray said. “She was encouraging every single person on the court.”
Ava Van Groningen patrolled the front and back rows for the Knights with 13 kills, three blocks and 20 digs.
“I have been really focusing on my defense,” Van Groningen said. “It’s a really good quality to have as an outside hitter.”
Taylor Postma chipped in two blocks for Ripon Christian.
After three road wins this week that chewed up nearly 750 miles, the Knights come home Tuesday for the regional final against No. 11 Head-Royce of Oakland. Start time is 6 p.m.