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Knights sweep in 1st-place battle with Mariposa
VB--Mariposa-Ripon Christian pic 1
Ripon Christians Paige Vos hits it over the block of Mariposas Sierra Hennies. - photo by GARY JENSEN/

RIPON — Everything was going Mariposa’s way at the start of its Southern League showdown of defending co-champions at Ripon Christian on Monday.

Ariana Vereschagin rapped three straight kills, and Sam Matlock followed with an ace. Versechagin struck again with an accurate spike, forcing first-year Ripon Christian coach Jocelyn Benziger to call a timeout. The Grizzlies extended the early lead to 6-0 after yet another kill, this time from Saylor Cramer.

All that did was wake up the Knights, who owned the rest of the match and powered their way to a 25-20, 25-20, 25-18 victory that leaves them alone at the top of the league standings.

“Our serve receive had to pick it up,” Benziger said. “That really hurt us. Once that picked up and we settled the nerves a little bit we were able to play our game.”

Ripon Christian (5-0 SL, 9-6 overall) eventually tied it up at 16-16 in the opening set after back-to-back kills from Carly Eastham. Paige Vos later crushed three scoring spikes in a row for a 23-19 Ripon Christian lead.

Eastham finished with 17 kills and six digs, while Vos added 13 and six. Elizabeth Weststeyn set 31 assists, and libero Bethany Silveira had 11 digs. Makenzie Miller recorded four aces and went on a seven-point service run to help the Knights take a wide lead early in the second game.

“Once they stopped making serve-receive errors they were pretty hard to stop,” Mariposa coach Debbie Leonard said. “They have a very good offense and we just don’t hit as hard as they do.”

Mariposa (4-1, 7-3) held just one lead over the final two sets and were down 10-3 early in both. Ripon Christian’s largest advantage was at 19-10 following a Vos kill in Game 2, but the Grizzlies made things interesting and closed in 22-19 on Isabella Spurlin’s kill.

Eastham closed the final two games with kills to put an end to Mariposa’s late rallies.

Ripon Christian still has Gustine and Waterford left before reaching the midpoint of the league schedule, but its toughest matches — including a sweep of second-place Orestimba last week — are already behind it. The Knights are seeking their seventh straight SL championship.

“I’m still getting familiar with the league,” said Benziger, whose past coaching and playing experience have been with the competitive Trans-Valley League. “One thing I’m learning is that no matter what the level of competition is they are not letting balls drop. 

“We’re used to going up, swinging and know that it’s going down, but it’s good to get into the rhythm of expecting it to come right back at us. It’ll be interesting to see both of those teams at their place.”