Braden and Jacob Van Groningen are more than longtime teammates — they’re cousins.
Soon, they’ll be rivals.
The former recently signed to play volleyball for The Master’s University out, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics member that competes in the Golden State Athletic Conference. Also in the GSAC is Vanguard University of Southern California, where Jacob completed his freshman year last month.
Vanguard, located in Costa Mesa, is a second-year program that claimed its first conference title this season and made it as far as the NAIA National Tournament semifinals.
“I don’t think we’ve ever played against each other,” Braden said. “It’s going to be a weird reunion.”
There’s a chance of him reuniting with another relative and former teammate in Lukas Van Groningen, who signed with Dordt University in January. The trio of multi-sport stars have left their mark at Ripon Christian, leading the boys volleyball team to their first Sac-Joaquin Section championship round and NorCal tournament appearances in 2019. They were also key members of the 2020 basketball team that earned the fourth NorCal title for the program. Braden and Lukas are graduating next week.
When it came down to choosing between the two sports for college, Braden knew by the end of his junior year that volleyball would be it. In the summer of 2019 he and Jacob entered a beach volleyball tournament in Santa Cruz and won. Braden has since been playing with Ripon-based Rage Volleyball Club.
“It started out being a spring sport more viewed as a hobby, but it was something to look forward to,” Van Groningen said. “In the beginning there was something new I learned every day. The last couple of years I knew I wanted to play volleyball in college.
“I obviously love to play basketball and it was a tough decision to leave that behind, but I also felt that what we accomplished my junior year with the Section and NorCal championships that was a good way to kind of close out my career. After that, I was at peace with choosing to play volleyball in college.”
In basketball, the 6-foot-4 forward was named to the 2020 Cal-Hi Sports Division V All-State team in 2020 and shared MVP honors in the Trans-Valley League. He also made the All-TVL team for volleyball his freshman and sophomore years. He is likely to continue playing outside hitter for The Master’s.
Van Groningen considered other schools on the West Coast including one NCAA Division I that could not promise more than just a roster spot.
At TMU, he’ll join a squad that will be in its third year under second-year head coach Jared Goldberg. The Mustangs went 6-19 in the past two COVID-shortened seasons combined. With a smaller roster, The Master’s presents Van Groningen with more opportunities for playing time and additional scholarship money. He also has experience in helping build a fledgling program after doing so at Ripon Christian, which began offering boys volleyball his freshman year in 2018.
In the end, TMU checked all of the boxes in what Van Groningan wanted athletically and academically. He’ll major in business with an emphasis on finance. After receiving an out-of-the-blue phone call from Goldberg, he got to visit the Santa Clarita campus in February and felt at home with the team and school. In late April, he announced his commitment to The Master’s.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I can make an immediate impact,” he said. “After starting from the ground up at RC my freshman year, there are a lot of similarities there. I think I will be able to help the team in a meaningful way. I’m excited. I feel like it’s the right spot for me.”