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Indians take Division IV volleyball crown
Ripon Highs varsity volleyball team celebrates after the Indians claimed the 2016 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Girls Division IV championship on Saturday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

LODI – Get the ball to Sam.

Nine points from elimination in the fourth game against Hilmar on Saturday, Ripon coach Erin Cutino called a timeout and told her team to get the ball to Sam McCreath.

McCreath did not disappoint. The Indians senior took over at that point, hammering out 11 kills in the set-ending 15-1 rally and getting seven of Ripon’s 15 points in the final set as the Indians brought home the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV  volleyball championship with a thrilling 27-29, 25-22, 22-25, 25-17, 15-12 win at Tokay High.

“We called a time out and I told the girls to get it to Sam,” Cutino said. “I told them until they start blocking her and stopping her we were going to keep going to her. And when they didn’t have an answer for her there was no reason to go away from it.”

Although Ripon (23-4) had beaten it Trans-Valley League rival twice this season, the Yellowjackets (23-13) had somewhat contained McCreath in the last meeting of the two teams, so Cutino’s original game plan for Saturday was to distribute the work load a little bit. 

“Our game plan going into this was a lot different then what we finished with,” Cutino said. “The last time we played Hilmar at their house they sat on Sam really well, so we wanted to have all of our other options open.

“But when the other options just weren’t working we knew we had to go back to what we know works. It’s easy to give all the credit to Sam in these situations, but it is nice when you have the ability to continually get it to your big hitters, and our defense and our setters allowed us to keep doing that.”

McCreath, who finished with a phenomenal 47 kills and had a triple -double with 21 digs and 13 blocks, was appreciative of the support she received from her team.

“I was just thinking we were not going to lose,” McCreath said of that fourth-set run. “I was thinking I was going to do everything in my power to bring our team back in the game and make sure we did not lose. 

“I knew that the defense was behind me and I could swing away and if I did get blocked I knew they would be right there.”

Although Hilmar never led in the final set, there were four ties with the last one at 12 when Cutino called time out. McCreath answered the call again, hammering two more kills to put match point in the hands of junior Jessica Stanley.

Stanley’s serve was heading long when the bottom appeared to drop out of the ball and it fell to the floor barely in play but enough for an ace and  the blue banner.

“Honestly, right when I served it I looked at the ball and it looked like it was floating out,” Stanley said. “I thought I was going to lose us the game.

“But then it ended up landing just near the line so it totally changed everything. It was the icing on the cake. It was just the best moment ever – we worked so hard for this and it was a great ending.”

Patrolling the back line with a vengeance and providing key defensive backup was senior libero and co-captain Ashlyn Eisenga who had 32 digs.

“During the first and second sets they had a lead in tips and roll shots,” Eisenga said. “As the match went on we caught on to it and we began picking them up and that gave us a chance for our setter to set up our hits and we were confident in our hitters and we did our job.”

Someone had to get the ball into the hands of the Indians hitters and that duty fell to senior setter Lauren Wiebe with a jaw-dropping 61 assists. 

“This has been our dream all four years,” Wiebe said. “But we struggled a little bit in the beginning – this wasn’t one of our normal matches where it comes easy for us. We had to work for the win.

“My passers did a great job getting me the ball and I knew if I got it to Sam we would get the point. Everything worked out perfectly for us.”

McCreath’s partners in crime at the net were sister Madison McCreath with 14 kills and two blocks and Breana Barrios who flirted with a double-double at 12 kills and eight blocks.

“I believed in us,” Barrios said. “I think we can do a lot if we put our minds to it. 

“We have to work as a team – when we work separately it doesn’t work too well – when we are all taking and having good energy it works pretty well.”

Next stop will be the opening round of the Northern California CIF State Girls Volleyball Championships on Wednesday when the No. 5 Indians host No. 12 Sutter in Division IV while in Division V No. 14 Ripon Christian travels to Monterey to face No. 3 Santa Catalina. Both games begin at 7 p.m.