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Knights, Spartans set to invade UOP today
BSK--SJS Finals ADV file pic
Lathrops Semajynique Steen races dribbles around Foothill defender Juliana Taylor in a Sac-Joaquin section Division IV semifinal Tuesday in Sacramento. - photo by DAVE CAMPBELL/The Bulletin

One school is looking to make history today at the University of the Pacific’s Spanos Center, while another seeks a return to past glory.

The Sac-Joaquin Section boys and girls basketball championships tip off today and end Saturday with the Division I title games. 

Ripon Christian is up first in the 12-game extravaganza. 

The Knights’ girls squad squares off with Forest Lake Christian in the Division VI final starting at 10 a.m. Ripon Christian’s boys follow at noon against defending Division VI champion Sacramento Adventist at noon. Then at 2 p.m., Lathrop will go after the first section banner in the school’s 10-year history against reigning state champion West Campus in the Division IV girls finale.

Today marks the first time since 2002 that both Ripon Christian teams get to vie for a section championship in the same year. Ripon Christian owns 20 total section pennants in basketball, but the small-school power has slumped of late.

The boys team accounts for nine of those titles and has not claimed one since 1996. Its last championship-round appearance came in 2010. Ripon Christian’s girls seized their 11th SJS crown in 2002 and lost in the 2003 and 2015 Division V finals. 

The Ripon Christian-Forest Lake Christian matchup is a throwback to the early 2000s when both schools dominated the Division V girls bracket. From 1999-2006, one team or the other played for the title and they took turns three-peating. They split their two head-to-head showdowns during this stretch, with RC winning in 2001 and Forest Lake in 2003.

Seeded third, battle-tested Ripon Christian (16-12) comes in as the underdog against the top-seeded Falcons (20-5) of Auburn. Forest Lake is within reach of its fourth SJS title and on an 18-game winning streak after taking all five of its losses in succession over three pre-league tournaments.

Forest Lake Christian is led by 5-foot-8 senior Johnna Dreschler, who averages 15 points, 17.4 rebounds (9.4 on the offensive end), 3.7 steals and 1.2 blocks. She and her sister, sophomore Jessi Dreschler (6.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.4 steals) could be a handful in the post for the Knights with scrappy forward Renae Heida (10.1 points, 8.5 rebounds) recovering from a broken bone in a foot. She managed to contribute eight points and seven rebounds in RC’s 55-52 upset of No. 2 Woodland Christian last Thursday, Feb. 23. 

Each team has a standout sophomore guard, as Amber Jackson (11.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 steals) leads FLC’s backcourt while RC counters with Morgan Van Elderen (12 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists).

Ripon Christian’s boys are also looking to knock off a top-seeded team riding a long winning streak. Sacramento Adventist (25-4) dropped all four of its games in the Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational but has since strung together 19 consecutive victories. 

The Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League champion Capitals are paced by 5-11 guard Griffin Trull (19.2 points, 96 3-pointers). They have other dangerous shooters in Shane Jones (10.7 points, 3.3 assists) and freshman Breckin Beaman (7.8 points, 39 3s).

Ripon Christian (18-9), winners of seven of its last eight, will have a considerable height advantage with leading scorer Andrew Vander Weide (16.2 points) being one of three Knights standing 6-7 or taller. Sac Adventist will try to match up with 6-5 juniors Bryson Collins (8.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) and Jamison Collins (4.5 points, 8.2 rebounds). 

Lathrop’s fourth-seeded girls are on a historic run after earning a share of the first Valley Oak League championship for the school and first CIF State Northern California Regional Championships berth.

The No.4 Spartans (23-5) are coming off a 58-50 upset of top-seeded Foothill and UC Davis-bound Makaila Sanders. They’ll face another NCAA Division I signee today in West Campus guard Kiara Jefferson (13.9 points).

The No.3 Warriors (23-7) graduated two of their top players from the2017 CIF State Division IV championship squad but return standout seniors Nia Johnson (15.9 points, 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.6 steals, 1.8 blocks) and Jefferson along with sophomore Gabby Rones (11.8 points).

They’ve won 15 straight since dropping three in a row in the competitive West Coast Jamboree Platinum bracket. They also lost all three of their contest in the Nike Tournament of Champions and have another defeat against Folsom, a SJS Division I finalist that takes on powerhouse St. Mary’s on Saturday.

Lathrop is also rolling with 16 wins in its last 17 contests. Myani Thornton (15.6 points) and Mary Cotton (14.2 points) lead the Spartans, while sophomore Khiya Thornton has shined on the defensive end against top scorers in the postseason.