Ripon Christian’s first-round opponent?
While the rest of the postseason qualifiers from the Manteca area return to action tonight (for girls) and Wednesday (boys), both of Ripon Christian’s squads get to sit out the opening round thanks their high seeds in smaller brackets. Ripon Christian’s boys are No. 1 in the 12-team Division V bracket, and the girls are fourth in a tournament consisting of just 10 teams.
The final day of the regular season was last Tuesday, Feb. 17. The boys team has to wait a day longer than the girls for its next game, as it faces the Forest Lake Christian-Buckingham Charter winner this Friday. It will be the longest layoff for the Knights since the season started.
“It’s a little longer than I like, I know the boys would just as soon be playing right away,” Ripon Christian coach Ron Vander Molen said. “I gave them a day off last week and I’ve tried to keep practices fresh and competitive. We were back at it (Monday); we ran a lot of sprints to keep our shooting legs in shape.
“Conditioning-wise I don’t think (the wait) will be a problem, but I’m hoping there are no cobwebs to shake off for not having played a game in a week and a half.”
Ed Mulder, the head coach of RC’s girls team, mirrored those concerns. The girls take on No. 5 Millennium or No. 12 Mariposa on Thursday.
“I’d rather us start (tonight),” he said. “The girls lose a little momentum.”
The bye certainly has its advantages. It allows teams to scout future opponents, which both Ripon Christian coaches plan on doing, gives them additional time to rest weary legs and it also means they need just one win to reach the semifinals and earn a berth to the next tournament — the CIF Northern California Regional Championships.
Aside from the long break between games, Vander Molen and Mulder have little to complain about. Both, in fact, are ecstatic over where their teams are seeded.
Vander Molen’s Knights (19-5) got the nod over Brookside Christian (21-4) for the top spot after capturing the Trans-Valley League title.
“I think this is our chance,” said Vander Molen, who is 0-3 coaching in section title games since the 1998-99 season. “In recent years we were running into Central Catholic or Capital Christian, and if you go back even further it was Modesto Christian. This is a good chance for us to win the playoffs.”
“I also know there’s a good chance for seven or eight teams to win,” Vander Molen said. “I think that the teams are as tight as they’ve ever been 1 through 8.”
Vander Molen will see one of those contenders in person Wednesday. After practice, he’ll drive up to Auburn to scout No. 8 Forest Lake Christian (19-7) and No. 9 Buckingham Charter (11-7). It was Forest Lake that knocked RC out in the second round last year, 73-58.
“I think Forest Lake is going to win (Wednesday) and they’re going to be a tough test for us,” Vander Molen said. “Having lost to them last year the guys are not taking them lightly.”
Mulder and the girls are very familiar with both of their potential quarterfinal opponents. The Knights (14-7) twice blew out former Southern League foe Mariposa, and on Dec. 5 they drubbed Millennium of Tracy 55-34 in the Escalon Lions Club Tournament.
“You can’t take anything for granted this time of year,” Mulder said. “There may be something new they do or something they do better than they used to. That’s the nice thing about having the bye. It gives us a chance to go scout them.”
Mulder was pleasantly surprised to get a top-four seed after his team went 2-3 in the second half of league and needed an at-large berth to qualify for the playoffs with its fourth-place finish in the TVL.
“Considering the way we finished league I was really happy with the 4 (seed),” Mulder said. “The tough part is being on the same side as the No. 1.”
Ripon Christian does own a win over second-seeded Argonaut (19-7), but Woodland Christian (24-3) is a heavy favorite in this division. The Knights edged out Woodland Christian 32-30 in the opening round two years ago and the Cardinals’ three best players were sophomores back then.
“They were very young when we saw them and they were very good,” Mulder said. “They are a definitely a strong No. 1 seed. We have our hands full, provided we get that far. It’s not a given that we’re going to win on Thursday.”