SACRAMENTO — Overdue no more.
The most storied program in Sac-Joaquin Section volleyball history, Ripon Christian got its 16th championship banner — the first in eight years — on Saturday with a convincing 25-14, 25-22, 25-16 sweep of top-seeded Colfax in Division V championship at Natomas High.
“I knew this was a special group of girls,” first-year coach Ava Vander Woude said. “They work hard and I actually got to coach a lot of the seniors when they were eighth graders so I know their potential. It’s just a matter of them being able to see it, too.
“From the beginning of the season until now, we have learned how to pick things up when we get into a lull. If we make a mistake oh well, we correct it and go from there, pushing a little harder.”
The road to the championship was tougher than the final itself, with the Knights (25-9) winning a grueling 3-2 semifinal road battle at Le Grand last Tuesday. They warded off match point five times in the 34-32 fourth set, forcing the deciding fifth game. And thanks to the CIF’s competitive-equity policy, if nothing else the road to the state championship will be longer.
While both Colfax and Le Grand will be hosting NorCal Division V playoff games on Tuesday, Ripon Christian will take to the road in Division IV and will be hosted by Tamalpais in Mill Valley, which lost in the Division III North Coast Section semifinals.
This was the first championship for Ripon Christian since 2011. During their dominant 20-year run of 15 SJS banners, the Knights never won less than four in a row.
Alexis Hilvers (five digs, four blocks, three kills) was among the seniors to step up for Ripon Christian on Saturday. During the 7-0 run to end the match, Hilvers had two kills and a block.
“For us seniors we really wanted this for our senior year,” Hilvers said. “And we knew that those last few points could be it and we had to go in and go hard.
“We always knew we had potential. We had things to work on here and there like every team but I am glad we pulled through.”
If this is the beginning of a multi-year run for Ripon Christian, sophomore Emily Van Groningen (15 kills, 12 digs) figures to be right in the middle of it. Many of her kills Saturday were intimidating, often sending the Falcons (23-12) running for cover.
She can deliver from the back line as well. After dinking the ball over for a kill to get the Knights the serve at 19-16, Van Groningen got the last six points of the day from the service line with the final point coming on an ace.
“We mix up our attack so they can’t sit and put a block on any one person,” Van Groningen said. “I know when I get the ball I am going to put it down.”
Ariel Vander Woude and Morgan Van Elderen kept the offense moving with Vander Woude getting 17 assists, 17 digs and six kills.
“It all starts with a good pass,” Ariel Vander Woude said. “And even if it is not a perfect pass, we know our setters are going to get there and our hitters will adjust and put it down.”
Van Elderen added 14 assists, 11 digs, six dills and two aces.
“When we lose a point, we tell ourselves we need to get it back,” Van Elderen said. “We had a few lulls but we managed to get that perfect pass and that perfect set back.”
Libero Christian TeVelde posted 20 digs for Ripon Christian. Lauren Braga added six digs and two aces and Natasha Smith had seven kills, five in the second set.