RIPON — Ripon Christian is still queen of Southern League volleyball.
The Sac-Joaquin Section’s most decorated small-school program racked up a fifth consecutive conference crown with Thursday’s 25-20, 25-11, 23-25, 25-15 win over second-place Gustine.
It’s an impressive feat for Knights (11-2 SL, 22-6 overall), who graduated Under Armour All-American setter Andie Shelton (now at Pacific) last year while the rest of the improved SL competition gained ground. Orestimba, for example, ended Ripon Christian’s run of 59 straight league victories and proved it to be no fluke by topping the Knights again in five games last week.
“We’ve overcome some challenges,” senior setter Elisabeth Regusci said. “We no longer have any extremely-talented year-round players, but we feel like we have four pretty good seniors leading the team. It’s really gratifying to keep the (winning tradition) going.”
Regusci put up 41 assists and ended the match with a service ace. Hard-hitting Dani Erdelatz spiked 29 kills while adding 15 digs and five blocks. Libero Makenna Koslosky led the back row with 31 digs, and Bailey Silveira served four aces. Sophomore middle Julia Ray and freshman outside hitter Paige Vos each contributed seven kills.
“It’s good to have someone like Dani, she’s definitely a go-to player on the outside,” Regusci said. “But we also have good, reliable hitters in the middle like Julia Ray and Lauren DeVries and Paige Vos has really stepped up, too.”
Vos put the finishing touches on the competitive opening set with back-to-back kills. Game 2 was also well contested to start, but that was before Rachel Faure went on a torrid 13-point service run capped by an ace that made it 20-5. Erdelatz racked up six of her kills and a block during the onslaught. Sophomore Macie Pires momentarily stopped the bleeding for Gustine by slugging a kill of her own.
“I just think of the team and what I have to do for them when I’m up there (at the service line),” Faure said. “Our team works real well together and we have faith in each other that we can do it.”
Gustine (9-4, 17-10) did not go away quietly.
Outside hitter Lindsey Hartman found her groove in the third set and put the Redskins in a game-point situation with two straight kills. Ripon Christian mounted a late comeback and scored four unanswered to close in 23-24 before a service error stopped its roll.
Ripon Christian got back on track in the fourth game
Elise Regusci (15 digs) served six points in a row at one point to for a 16-9 Ripon Christian lead. She later came through with a key dig near the net during the match’s best rally, which was punctuated by Erdelatz’s kill that widened the Knights’ advantage to 22-12.
“This is the second time Gustine took us to four games,” Ripon Christian coach Kara Ledeboer said. “They’re scrappy and they run everything down. They also have two great outside hitters in (Hartman and Pires) who can give anyone a run for their money. They made us play hard.”
Ripon Christian has had to work for much of its wins in the SL, which hadn’t been the case in previous seasons. Long gone are those routine sweeps, which is alright to Ledeboer and her still-reigning Knights.
“It’s great that the Southern League overall has stepped up,” Ledeboer said. “It’s been more competitive and it has made all the players better.”