RIPON – The path to a varsity girls soccer championship is often blazed by the experienced and talented.
It’s often determined by how many year-round players a coach can field.
Ripon Christian’s Kevin Tameling has enjoyed the largest turnout in recent memory – he’s got 40 players out for frosh-soph and varsity teams – and yet he only has one player with any kind of club credentials.
And she’s a freshman.
Still, there’s a heightened sense of pressure and expectation circulating around the private school program.
The Knights have the talent, depth and experience to annex the school’s first-ever soccer championship this season.
There’s just one catch: Basketball is still king on campus.
The soccer team will be without several key players, including captain Kaylie Colyn, as the basketball team continues its postseason march.
“We only have one club player. We don’t have girls that play soccer all year,” Tameling said. “These girls are playing two and three sports a year. We’re just well-rounded.”
It nearly paid off for the Knights last spring.
Ripon Christian finished the 2012 season as hot as any team in the Southern League, but missed the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs when it drew even with Gustine in their finale.
RC closed with a 12-7-3 record and tied for third with Gustine at 8-4-2 in conference play.
“That tie knocked us out of the playoffs,” said Tameling, whose team had unbeaten champion Waterford on the ropes in each of their two meetings. “That was unfortunate.”
The Knights went unbeaten in their final five games, winning four straight before the 4-4 deadlock with Gustine. In that game, Ripon Christian rallied from a 4-2 hole in the final 20 minutes and had the eventual game-winning goal hit the post.
The close call, combined with an experienced junior and senior class have made RC a target team.
“We’re hoping to break the barrier on some things we’ve never done before in the program,” said Tameling, entering his second season as the Knights’ head coach.
“We have a great group of girls here. We have a group of nine seniors that have worked their way through the program. Their excitement has translated into more girls being involved. There’s a lot of excitement around our program.”
Though Ripon Christian lacks a volume of “club” players, it has no shortage of talent.
Seniors Ashley Bloemhof and Colyn plan to play at Dordt College in Iowa in the fall – Colyn recently signed her national letter of intent – and will serve as captains on the field.
Colyn is a versatile player who will play in the midfield and defense for the Knights. Bloemhof will transition from defense to the forward line.
Tameling’s other captains are center midfielders Kalin Groen and Vanessa Ballo.
The junior class is headlined by Adri Van Groningen and Teagan Manus, who along with Colyn, are principal members of the Ripon Christian girls basketball team.
The Knights beat Woodland Christian 32-30 in the quarterfinals of the section’s Division V basketball tournament on Thursday.
They’ll play defending state champion and top seed Brookside Christian on Wednesday, already assured a berth in the CIF Northern California tournament.
Tameling doesn’t believe he’ll have his full complement of players until the start of Southern League play.
“We’re fighting against it. We’ve got some barriers we’re trying to work through,” he said. “The basketball team won again (Thursday), so we won’t have our whole team together for another week and a half – or longer.”
The schedule won’t take it easy on the Knights, who open at Hughson Tuesday and begin play at the Buffalo Cup Friday with host Manteca.
Both teams qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason last spring, with the Buffaloes reaching the Division IV semifinal.
“We’re trying to figure everything out right now. We had a conversation today. It was ‘Hey, these are the things we have to work through and get through,’ ” Tameling said. “We can’t wait for people to join us or expect teams to take it easy on us. We have to grow from it.”