Ariel Vander Woude wanted to cap off her softball career with another Sac-Joaquin Section championship alongside her talented classmates at Ripon Christian, and she was willing to play through another knee injury to do it.
The COVID-19 crisis ended that endeavor, but Vander Woude can still proudly go away as a champion across three different sports. She'll continue playing volleyball at Dordt University, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics powerhouse in the sport.
Vander Woude had surgery to repair her torn left anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago. She sustained the injury during the basketball season. She tore the right ACL while playing softball her sophomore year.
“It was very disappointing,” Vander Woude said of her softball season ending after just three games. “We had eight seniors this year and everyone returning. We were still going to have a pretty strong team, and it was going to be fun with our new coach (Steve de Graaf). We'll never know how far we could have gone.”
A fourth consecutive section final appearance would not have surprised anybody.
Vander Woude is one of Ripon Christian's four-year starters who played a part in back-to-back SJS Division VII championships — the first two in program history.
Last season, the Knights won the outright Southern Athletic League title, only their second-ever conference crown. They were promoted to the more-competitive Division VI for the SJS playoffs but lost to Woodland Christian 5-3 in the final.
Ripon Christian was 2-1 the 2020 season was halted by growing concerns of the pandemic. Vander Woude batted .500 and looked to improve on her best season — the first baseman posted a career-best .382 average last year and drove in 26 runs.
It was a solid bounce-back after playing much of her sophomore campaign with the torn right ACL. Prior to that, she was the second-leading rebounder on Ripon Christian's girls basketball team that won the SJS Division VI championship.
Vander Woude made up for lost time on the volleyball court this past fall.
The versatile setter helped the Knights (25-11) capture a section-best 16th SJS title and made the All-SAL team with 551 assists, 340 digs, 77 aces, 95 kills and 11 blocks. Her mom, Ava, was head coach for the season.
“It was pretty special,” Vander Woude said. “Four of those girls also played softball and basketball with me and that was our third championship team. Winning (section) championships in three different sports doesn't happen often, so that was pretty special for all of us.”
Volleyball has always been her favorite sport, and Vander Woude's breakthrough senior year was key in landing spot with Dordt.
“I was looking at two schools to play volleyball and Dordt was one of them. I contacted the coach (Chad Hanson) after volleyball season, gave him some film and it went from there. He kept contacting me throughout the COVID (lockdown) and seeing how I was doing.”
Vander Woude made it official on May 27 when she signed her letter of intent. She will study animal science and aims to join her parents in the dairy industry.
Vander Woude should have little trouble adjusting to college life. Her father, Arlan, is a Dordt alum, and they have relatives who live in Iowa — some of whom are currently students at the school in Sioux Center.
In addition, Ripon High graduate Mackenzie Hutchinson has also accepted an athletic scholarship to play at Dordt but for softball. The two have been travel-ball teammates, attend the same church and are hoping to room together.
“It's nice to have people I know,” Vander Woude said.