Facing a familiar foe it had already beaten twice this season, top-seeded Ripon did not overlook Trans-Valley League rival Hilmar on Thursday when they met for a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV quarterfinal.
The defending champion Indians swept 25-12, 25-14, 25-23 but needed to sweat out a spirited surge from the No. 8 Yellowjackets in the third set. Ripon trailed for much of the game but rallied to outscore the visitors 12-4 to secure the sweep.
“We all got really superstitious, for some reason,” senior setter Kaya Whittaker said. “We wanted everything to be exactly the way it was when we beat them, so we had people in the same positions on the court and even on the bench doing the same roles.
“We were like, ‘Guys, we cannot underestimate this team.’ Like they say, when you have nothing to lose, that’s when you play your best.”
Whittaker contributed 18 assists and two aces to the win, which vaults Ripon (29-5) into a semifinal with No. 4 West Campus (34-3) of Sacramento as well as a third straight appearance in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern Regionals.
Fellow setter Reagan Wilkerson racked up 25 assists, six digs and two aces. The duo orchestrated a varied and well-balanced attack that included 13 kills from outside hitter Adriana Dorn, 10 kills from right-side hitter Katherine Eskes and seven apiece from Katelyn Bogetti and Kylee Fuller.
Libero Amelia Lara collected 19 digs and three aces. The three aces came in succession during the Indians’ game-3 comeback.
After getting overpowered in the first two sets, Hilmar (15-12) stepped up its game for the third. The Yellowjackets used an 8-2 run to take a 17-11 lead. Six-foot senior Alicia Souza sparked them, punctuating one of the best points of the match with a cross-court kill after libero Sophie Stivers came up with a big save and a dig to keep the rally going.
Souza paced Hilmar with 11 kills, the last of which gave the Yellowjackets a 19-13 lead.
“Coming into this game, I told the girls we have to win the serve-and-pass battle,” Ripon coach Gregory Soliz said. “We were making a lot of serving errors, I think we made about four or five. (Hilmar) started to pass better and started to serve tougher. They wanted that game.
“I had to tell my girls to stay calm and take it one point at a time. I told them not to even worry about the score, we just have to get some rhythm back.”
The Indians answered the call. Dorn came through with back-to-back kills, and Lara’s three-ace run closed them in, 19-18.
Hilmar managed to ward them off for a 23-21 advantage, but Ripon took over from there. Fullmer fired a kill, and Eskes put down two in a row and Fullmer struck again with the match-ending block.
“In the past, we’ve had some issues staying in there mentally,” Whittaker said. “I think we just proved we’ve come a long way from where we started. We were able to stay in it mentally and get past that six-or-seven-point deficit we were in in the third set. We played as a team.”