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Ripon Christian looks to make immediate impact in SL
First-year sophomore Danny Vos hopes to lead Ripon Christian to a title in its first year back in the Southern League. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

Ripon Christian’s exodus from the Trans Valley League came at a good time, but that doesn’t mean the Knights will have it easy in the Southern League where traditional power Mariposa and the Sac-Joaquin Section’s leading scorer, Turlock Christian’s Brandon Rogers, await.

Realignment hasn’t made things any easier for Ripon High in the TVL either.

Ripon Christian, at the very least, won’t have to deal with Modesto Christian, which is undefeated through its first four seasons in the TVL.

While the Crusaders (8-2) — who return 6-foot-5 forward Anthony Pratt, 6-3 sophomore wing Raymond Bowles and 6-2 senior guard Derek Evans to — are likely to earn their fifth straight TVL championship, the race for second will be more competitive than it has ever been.

Ripon (5-7) opens league with Hilmar, the runner-up in the Western Athletic Conference last year, on Tuesday but still has three more non-conference left on the schedule. The Indians, who surround standout 6-4 forward Jake McCreath with a promising class of sophomores, can use every win it can get to make the postseason.

Riverbank (11-1) and Escalon (9-4) have improved tremendously over the last few years.

Riverbank won its own Ron Peterson Tip-Off Tournament and knocked off Oakdale Rotary Classic host Oakdale High in the title round last week.

Talented 6-3 guard Zack Gonzales, competing in his third varsity season, returns and is flanked by the future star of the program, freshman guard Rolaun Dunham.

Escalon got off to a rough start because it lacked depth; many of its players were on the school’s CIF State Division III Bowl championship team.

The Cougars are on a six-game win streak after starting the season 1-3 in the Modesto City Classic. They are loaded with a returning group of players led by Nate Peterson, 6-4 Tyler Schuurman, Brandon Shaw and Gino Franceschetti — the football team’s starting quarterback.

Orestimba — which joined Hilmar in moving from the WAC to the TVL — is 9-4 after going 9-16 overall last year, but played a soft non-league schedule.

The Yellowjackets from Hilmar (6-7) are tough and experienced in the post with 6-4 center Daniel Greenleaf (13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds per game) and power forward Trent Goiburn (11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

It could be another tough year for winless Hughson (0-13).

Ripon Christian (7-5) will be competitive tangling with schools closer to its size, and Vos brothers Logan and Danny could have the Knights vying for a title down the final stretch but will need more consistency from the supporting cast.

Five-time defending SL champion Mariposa (6-7) is coming off a 24-4 season but lost 6-6 star Cody Wichman to graduation. The Bears still have 6-7 Drake Long, 6-5 Kevin Shenk and 6-3 wing Ian Merzwinski to form the most imposing front line in the conference.

Mariposa heads to RC to open league Tuesday.

Turlock Christian (8-4) has a shot because of Rogers, a 6-3 senior who averages 30.4 points.

Le Grand (5-7), led by 6-5 forward Zack Moreno, already has wins over Turlock Christian (49-45) and Mariposa (47-45).

Denair (8-5) deepens the race with its own prolific scorer in Clayton McDonald (17.2 ppg), but Ripon Christian drubbed the Coyotes 63-44 in non-league play.

Gustine, Delhi and Waterford round out the rest of the league.