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Ripon coasts to another Section final
Indians tidy up defense, passing in tune-up for Christian Brothers
El Dorado-Ripon girls water polo
Ripon’s Maddie Staley (2) lofts a shot over El Dorado goalie Haven Little. GARY JENSEN/

Tiffani Hunter was 5 minutes away from securing her first shutout as goalie for Ripon on Tuesday.

That was the extent of the drama during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal at Ervin Zador Aquatic Center, where the second-seeded Indians dominated No. 3 El Dorado, 13-2.

El Dorado’s Aurora Klier busted the bid for the clean sheet with 4:40.02 remaining, collecting the loose ball after Hunter deflected an initial shot from Betsy Yost. Camille Robertson scored the second goal for the visiting Cougars from Placerville with 1:00.59 to go.

Both goals given up were with reserve players on the field for Ripon, and Hunter racked up five of her 12 saves in the fourth quarter.

“It would have been my first shutout, but it’s not the end of the world,” Hunter said. “We played a really good game and it’s exciting going back to Sections.”

The Indians (12-10) have advanced to the Section final for a second straight season, doing so for the first time in program history last year. They take on top-seeded Christian Brothers (17-13) in the championship round Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Roseville Aquatic Center. It’s a rematch of their 2021 semifinal won by Ripon, 9-4.

“I was very nervous going into this game,” Hunter said. “I’m usually not scared, but today I was scared. This is my first year being a goalie. Last year, I played on the field and didn’t get a chance to play in a Section game, I just watched from the bench. This was just a very exciting experience.”

Mia Sickler-Lopez is hoping to get the job done this time around. The senior was a tone-setter for the Indians on both ends of the pool Tuesday, finishing with three goals, eight steals and an assist.

“I think we have a real opportunity to get our first blue banner, which is what we’re really hoping for,” Sickler-Lopez said. “I know the entire team is excited for what’s to come next.

Hailey Knief led the attack with five goals and two assists, scoring twice in the first quarter. Maddie Staley added two goals and two steals. Hunter assisted Staley’s second goal in the first quarter with a long pass, making it 4-0.

The Indians led 9-0 at halftime and 12-0 after three periods. Crystallyn Tran contributed three assists; Valerie Chun had a goal, a block and a steal; Chloe Price collected a goal and three steals; and Maddie Stewart scored once.

Ripon gave El Dorado trouble from the outset with airtight defense with pressure on and off the ball. The Indians were also adept in passing, especially in transition. Their second goal of the game was a penalty shot from Knief, which was set up by well-coordinated passing sequence from Hunter to right winger Staley to Price, who drew the foul for the penalty throw.

“I’m a little more excited with this game for girls from Los Banos, because they looked for each other a lot more,” Ripon coach Erik Zador said. The Indians routed Los Banos 13-4 in the opener, but he wanted to see more efficient ball movement.

“They were looking to make assisted passes, and their energy seemed to be more hyped up. They seemed to be having a lot more fun this time, and that was good to see. I think that’s the most important thing for these girls, is to play hard and have fun. I think we accomplished that, so now we’re excited about Saturday.”

Zador expects a challenging matchup on Saturday and wants his team to come out with the same intensity it did for the semifinal.

“I don’t want them to ever think it’s going to be a cakewalk,” Zador said. “There are a lot of great teams out there, and you never know. We didn’t know anything about El Dorado and how they play as a team. I tell my girls I want us to play our game, play the way we’re supposed to play and don’t let anybody else make them play a different play. When we do that, we’re successful as a team.”