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Ripon sweeps Sutter to reach SJS Division IV final
Bear River-Ripon girls volleyball
Ripon middle blocker Makenzie Loechler (2) tries to beat Sutter’s Gracie Langsdorf (23) and Mia Minard (8) to the ball. GARY JENSEN/

The Trans-Valley League will be represented in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV final for a ninth straight season on Saturday.

And it’s up to Ripon to keep the league’s streak of titles going after the No. 2 Indians took care of No. 3 Sutter in a one-sided 25-12, 25-20, 25-21 semifinal Tuesday night.

That sets up a rematch with top-seeded Sonora (26-5), which knocked off No. 5 Central Catholic in the other semifinal, 16-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-20. The championship round is Saturday at Modesto Junior College. Start time is to be determined.  

Last year, it was Sonora that dispatched the Indians in the semifinal round. They opened this season against each other, with the Wildcats prevailing in the Aug. 23 non-league contest in five games.

“Last year we got knocked out of this (round), so it feels good for our seniors,” Ripon junior setter Kaya Whittaker said. “The seniors were crying in there because they were so happy. This is such a good team, and we had so much confidence going into the season, so it feels to get there.”

Ripon (21-10), the TVL runner-up, is going after its third Section crown and first since 2016. TVL teams own the last five Division IV championships, with Hilmar and Escalon evenly splitting the last four. Hilmar and Escalon are now competing in Division III, because of the “continued success” rule.

“I was an assistant last year and have seen these girls grow tremendously,” first-year Ripon head coach Casey Kresge said. “After every game they say, ‘Good job, coach,’ and I’m like, ‘I didn’t do anything, I just wrote the lineup.’ They go out there, play hard and give it their all. All the kudos go to them and the team — they’ve been working hard the whole season, and I’m really proud of them for getting to experience this at the end of the season.”

Her club came out firing Tuesday, building a 9-2 lead in the first set. Kylee Fullmer accounted for three of Ripon’s first four points with two kills and ace, but the Indians relied on their usual balance for the rest of the match.

Fullmer led the way with nine kills, and freshman Adriana Dorn had eight to go with two blocks. It was Dorn who provided the match-clinching point with a dink. Seniors Danika Matuska (three aces) and Makenzie Loechler (two blocks) added five kills apiece.

One of two junior setters, Whittaker handed out 19 assists and served three aces, while Reagan Wilkerson contributed 14 assists.

“It’s fantastic, especially as a setter knowing that I have so many options,” Whittaker said. “I can just move the ball anywhere and have such confidence in my hitters to get a kill. I don’t have to consistently feed one person, I can put it anywhere and the ball will be put down. It’s really nice”

The back row set the tone in the first set, keeping balls alive off blocks from Sutter. Eden Velasco and Emeri Lane came up with eight and seven digs, respectively.

“They showed up, they came in hot just ready to go,” Kresge said. “We had a really good strategizing week of practice, hitting certain spots and the defense constantly moving their feet and being loud and keeping energy high for all of practice every two hours. I think that training for a week really helped.

Pioneer Valley League champ Sutter (28-5-1) only had leads in the second set. The Huskies were ahead 16-13, but Ripon went on an 8-1 run capped by back-to-back aces from Matuska.

Game 3 was all Ripon. Wilkerson fired two straight aces to give the Indians a 12-3 lead, and Lochler later served an ace of her own to make it 21-11. Sutter mounted a late charge to make it respectable, but Kailee Inderbitzin and Katherine Eskes each had a kill to set the Indians up with match point.

“Tonight is the most consistent I’ve seen the girls play to their highest potential,” Kresge said. “I think from the very beginning of the season to now we’ve grown tremendously. I definitely think we’ve grown as a team, but I bet Sonora is thinking the same thing. That’s what you hope for as a coach.”