LE GRAND — It is tough to fight off match point in a hostile environment, and the Ripon Christian volleyball is tough — super tough.
The No. 3 Knights headed south Tuesday night to take on Southern Athletic League rival Le Grand in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinals.
They found themselves on the brink of elimination in the fourth set not once or twice, but five times before Morgan Van Elderen caught the second-seeded Bulldogs flat-footed, expecting one of her resounding kills when she delivered a dink that fell to the floor to force a fifth game and temporarily quiet the raucous crowd.
Ripon Christian then took fifth game to win a 21-25, 25-20, 20-25, 34-32, 15-13 thriller and thrust the Knights into the finals Saturday against top-seeded Colfax at Natomas High School at noon. It was the third meeting of the season between the two after they split the previous two to share the SAL title.
After 16 ties and three lead changes in that pivotal fourth set, Emily Van Groningen (35 kills, seven blocks) slammed the ball into the Le Grand court to tie the game again at 32-32. Van Elderen (11 kills, nine blocks, 22 assists) took it from there, giving Ripon Christian (24-9) the lead for good with a kill at 33-32. She then got her dink for the 34-32 win.
“That fourth game was crazy,” Van Elderen said. “This is the match we have been building to all season and the last time we played here we played scared.
“But this time we had to put it away and go 100 percent. That’s what we did.”
The rubber game was no different than the previous four. The set was tied at 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 9 with the Bulldogs (22-5) sneaking out to leads of 11-9 and 12-10. Avery McMurray blasted a kill to draw the Knights within 12-11. Van Elderen and Van Groningen then tied the game with a block and Van Groningen got her team’s final three points on kills to send the Knights to the finals.
“I just needed to end it,” Van Groningen said of her final three kills of the night. “We needed to show everybody that we were the better team and we proved it on the floor.
“And we really wanted to go to sections.”
Neither team could establish dominance with a total of 45 ties through the five sets.
“This was awesome,” Ripon Christian coach Ava Vander Woude said. “The girls really wanted this match tonight. We were a little slow coming out in the first game and were a little easy on our hits but we knew we had to step it up from there with a little more heart.
“We had to keep our composure in that fourth set. We knew we could make the pass when we needed to and get ourselves back to the line where we needed to be.
Knights libero Charlotte TeVelde was all over the court with 50 digs along with four aces. Lauren Braga added 26 digs and Ariel Vander Woude dished out 39 assists.