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RC facing unfamiliar foe in familiar territory
Escalons Samantha Shipley is able to tip the ball over the blocks of Teagan Manus (8) and Kristy Van Diver. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

The Pavilion at UC Davis is one of many sites familiar to the Sheltons in their vast volleyball travels.

Ripon Christian head coach Tiger Shelton, his wife and assistant Michele and their daughter Andie — the Knights’ outstanding junior setter — are returning tonight for their sixth straight Sac-Joaquin Section finals appearance.

The fourth-seeded squad in the Division IV bracket takes on No. 2 Bear River of Grass Valley at 8. While RC is accustomed to the surroundings, there are some changes. The Knights competed in one of the earlier matches in their last five final-round appearances, but that was when they were in Division V, the program captured all of 15 previous section titles.

“It is a little different just because no other team from Ripon Christian has competed in Division IV, so it’s kind of a big deal,” Andie said after Tuesday’s four-game win at No. 1 Escalon.

Ripon Christian (27-6) has been fortunate so far having played teams from the area it is familiar with. After opening with an easy sweep of Sacramento’s West Campus, the Knights squared off with rival Ripon High in the second round, winning again in three games. Both Ripon and Escalon have remained on the Knights’ schedule as nonleague opponents after they left the Trans-Valley League three years ago.

Inevitably, they’ll see a Division IV opponent they know little about at some point. That is the case tonight, and that will be the case next week when they compete in the CIF NorCal tournament. All SJS finalists qualify NorCals.

“We don’t know anything about Bear River — nothing,” Tiger Shelton said. “But it should be a real knockdown (drag-out). Traditionally we haven’t played real well in the finals, and we’ll have to play well (tonight).”

Bear River (29-12), co-champion of the Pioneer Valley League, will vie for its third overall section title, winning the Division IV crown in 1991 and Division III in 1998. Last year, the Bruins advanced to the finals but lost to eventual state champion Union Mine in four sets.

On Tuesday, Bear River throttled Valley Oak League champion Sonora 25-4, 25-23, 25-15. It’s a veteran group that returned 11 players from last year’s section runner-up team. The Bruins are led by four-year varsity standout Sara Schell (4.1 kills per game) and third-year junior Kirsten Pereira (2.9 kills). Teryn Rath is their leading blocker with 44 for the season, and Kaya Johnson quarterbacks the attack from the setter position.

With five senior starters — libero Kaylie Colyn, middle blockers Cassidy De Rousse and Stephanie Van de Pol, outside hitter Kristy Van Diver and all-around talent Brittany Petlansky — and one of the nation’s top junior setters in Andie Shelton, this was a good year for Ripon Christian to debut in the more competitive Division-IV field.

Tiger Shelton has said this is the best and most well-rounded team he’s had in his nine years at RC but also realizes that its time as a Division-IV contender may be short.

“I have a good team; I have a good coaching staff,” he said. “In Division V we can fluctuate (from year to year) and still be pretty good. We’re going to have our up-and-down years, and when we have our down years Division IV is going to be merciless on us. Right now we’re strong, and we’ll see what happens. We get to go on to state, which is a great accomplishment for them.”