On multiple occasions this past fall season, Dani Erdelatz and some of her Ripon Christian teammates acknowledged that the 2014 Knights lacked the star power of their predecessors.
And yet, Erdelatz herself managed to shine brightest of them all.
The senior outside hitter built on her breakout campaign from a year ago and was the centerpiece to Ripon Christian’s continued run as a competitive small-school program. Erdelatz is the Manteca Bulletin All-Area Most Valuable Volleyball Player.
“Going into the year I feel like we had this burden on us to be good,” Erdelatz said. “When we got our first tournament out of the way we just realized that it’s not about what other people want, it’s what people on the team can do together. As a team we worked really well with what we had, and we did it without having a superstar on the team.”
If this was truly a year without superstars, Erdelatz was the closest thing to it. When it comes to the best of the area’s best, she was perhaps rivaled only by Ripon sophomore Samantha McCreath, Weston Ranch senior Victoria Gulley and Sierra senior Kristen Maestretti in all-around ability. Erdelatz separated herself with big-game performances, leadership and accolades.
The numbers she compiled speak for themselves: 450 kills (4.6 per set), 56 aces and 250 digs. Erdelatz spearheaded the Knights to a 26-7 record and fifth straight Southern League championship. In that same stretch only Ripon Christian players have been elected the conference’s MVP. She follows Michelle Terpstra (2010) and Andie Shelton (2011-13), two outstanding setters who could do it all.
Shelton, also a three-time All-Area MVP, is now at Pacific, where she competed as a true freshman in the fall. Her parents, Tiger and Michele Shelton, were Ripon Christian coaches when it captured successive Sac-Joaquin Section Division V titles from 2007-2011.
The Knights entered 2014 with Erdelatz as their only notable returner, and Kara LeDeBoer had taken over full responsibility of the program after sharing head coaching duties with Michele Shelton last season.
“From the first practice, she wanted this team to be successful,” LeDeBoer said of Erdelatz. “We were a little underestimated this year, which in itself is kind of motivating. I think that motivated her, as well as the team, not to be counted out.”
“The younger players looked to her for leadership,” LeDeBoer added. “She was comfortable making those decisions and she did a great job leading them team and scoring points. I wasn’t surprised. I knew she had it in her. I think she enjoyed playing with Andie and learned a lot from her. She stepped up in her senior year and we all got to see those qualities in her.”
If there was any doubting Ripon Christian’s supremacy in the SL, it came after its first of two losses to Orestimba. The Knights had a 59-match winning streak in league and were swept with three starters out.
It was a crowded race by that point in the season, and Gustine had prevailed as the frontrunner. Ripon Christian was no longer invincible in a league that, to its credit, greatly improved from 2013. It was certainly the most competitive it had been since the Knights came in from the stronger Trans-Valley League in 2010.
“Suddenly, (the SL) got really good,” Erdelatz said. “It was kind of a shock at first when we lost to Orestimba, but it made us hungrier. It also made us realize it’s not about one player, that’s it’s definitely a team.”
Albeit, a team that couldn’t have done it without Erdelatz. She hammered a season-high 25 kills in a four-game win over Gustine, which was knocked off the top spot with the loss. Erdelatz registered seven 20-kill matches, five of them in league.
Orestimba later proved to be the Knights’ kryptonite winning a five-game thriller to complete the season sweep. Ripon Christian still remained on course to garner another SL championship and clinched it with a dominant effort against Gustine in the second-to-last regular-season match.
LeDeBoer was named Coach of the Year in the SL, and Ripon Christian’s other three seniors — twins Elisabeth and Elise Regusci and Makenna Koslosky — earned all-league honors.
“Playing (with the other seniors) was like playing with my sisters,” Erdelatz said. “We have a bond on and off the court.”
Ripon Christian qualified for the SJS Division IV playoffs for a third straight season, elevated to tougher competition because of its dominant run in Division V. And for a third straight season the Knights made it out of the first round, this time holding off visiting West Campus (29-27, 21-25, 27-25, 25-17) in a spirited battle between two league champions and the No. 8 and 9 seeds.
“To put it in perspective, we’re a Division V team, so we expected them to be good,” Erdelatz said. “We were ready for anything, and they were a real scrappy team. It was great to win one last time with my teammates.”
Erdelatz also got to put her skills on display for the home crowd one last time. She racked up 19 kills, three blocks, 12 digs and two aces.
“She showed up,” LeDeBoer said. “I think she knew it was her time and she decided to show us what she had. It was exciting to see her success at a time in the season when it was important to do so.”
Ripon Christian was rewarded with a match against top-seeded Sonora, the division’s reigning champion that went on to claim the state crown. The Knights were simply outgunned and lost 17-25, 13-25, 11-25.
“Losing to them was heartbreaking, but at least it was against the state champs,” Erdelatz said. “I was definitely rooting for them after; I play with two of them for club.”
Erdelatz is still weighing options when it comes to the future of her volleyball career but made it clear that she desires to continue playing for a four-year university.
Meanwhile, she has confidence in the team she leaves behind. The Knights will again lose their best player and may again be underestimated, just don’t be surprised if they win another title. Again.
“They are going to have some standouts like Paige Vos (currently a freshman), Rachel Faure and Bailey Silveira,” Erdelatz said. “There are some good core players coming back. They’ll do fine.”