RIPON — Word travels quickly in this small town known for almonds and volleyball. It gets around even faster between the city’s rival high schools that are a stone’s throw away from each other.
Ripon High’s volleyball players were supremely confident when they visited fourth-seeded Ripon Christian Thursday night for the first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section playoff match between the tradition-rich powerhouses, and understandably so. The No. 11 Indians were coming off a stunning opening-round sweep of No. 5 Summerville.
“We heard the talk coming from their side, and it was getting kind of chippy,” RC coach Tiger Shelton said. “That’s all I needed. I didn’t have to ask these girls to be at practice (on Wednesday), they were there early ready to go and they didn’t want to stop,” RC coach Tiger Shelton said. “They heard that they (Ripon) were going to come into our own gym and beat us.”
Ripon Christian 3, Ripon 0.
And the Knights (26-6) made their statement emphatically in Game 3, winning 25-12 after taking the first two, 25-18. Up next is another former Trans-Valley foe. Top-seeded Escalon defeated defending champion Union Mine in four games Thursday and will host RC on Tuesday in the semifinals.
Overall, it was an impressive display of high-octane volleyball. Ripon held its own in the first two sets, and the packed Ripon Christian gym made for an electric atmosphere for this historic event.
Ripon showed life after trailing 8-2 in the second game, rallying to close the deficit to 19-16 after Kristen Carhart’s scoring hit. Even after Cassidy De Rousse sealed it for RC by putting away an overpass at the net, Ripon coach Adrienne Uecker felt that her team was still in the fight.
“I thought going into the third set we had the momentum and that we were going to turn it around, but it’s really hard (to come back) when you’re down 4 or 5 in an emotional match like this,” she said. “In Summerville we’d get down a couple points and we’d come back, but tonight just wasn’t our night.”
Third-year varsity senior Brittany Petlansky, who contributed seven kills and eight digs to RC’s win, relished every moment of the match. It was during her sophomore year that Ripon Christian began campaigning in the Southern League after spending three decades in the TVL, where the Knights duked it out with the likes of Ripon. For several years leading up to the 2010 realignment, Ripon had been the dominant team in town.
The rivalry remained intact in the three seasons since, but it lacked both meaning and intensity. The programs open their seasons against each other with Foundation Games, exhibition matches that don’t count against records but helps raise money for the SJS’s scholarship programs.
Petlansky keyed RC’s authoritative third set. Her 11-point service run, which included two aces, helped the Knights build a 13-2 lead, and she punctuated the match with a kill on the final play.
“It’s really cool just because we usually play them in a Foundation Game and it doesn’t matter,” Petlansky said. “The last couple of times we played Ripon their setter was out, so they say we won because they didn’t have all of their players. To be here and win with all their players, it’s a really good feeling.”
What makes Ripon Christian so tough is its depth and versatility. Not player reached double digits in kills, but five had at least six. Super-setter Andie Shelton can go anywhere with her passes, and she herself was the hardest hitter on the court Thursday. She finished with seven kills and 26 assists.
Kristy Van Diver, arguably RC’s most improved player from last year’s Division V section championship club, slammed home eight kills, as did De Rousse, who also finished with four blocks. Libero Kaylie Colyn had 11 digs.
“They have a lot of talent,” Uecker said. “We’re used to playing teams that have one or two good hitters, and they’re a team with talent all the way around — they can hit from anywhere.”
Ripon’s standout setter, Lizzy Nizzoli, led the team with 26 assists, six kills and two blocks. Paige Burrell racked up 25 digs, and Paige Goodger recorded eight kills and 10 digs.