RIPON — Ripon Christian celebrated this historic occasion with a few hand slaps and fist bumps on Wednesday.
The Knights acted as they’ve been there before because they have — well, sort of.
Just not for volleyball. Until now.
The top-seeded team in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs took care of No. 5 West Campus with a mostly-comfortable 25-14, 25-14, 23-25, 24-14 victory.
“We don’t have any volleyball-specific players on this team,” 6-foot-8 outside hitter Cade Alger said. He recently signed with Division I Seattle University for basketball. “A lot of the guys’ main sports are either basketball or football. … We’re blessed with height and athleticism. We’ve just been having a lot of fun together. We’re a good group of friends.”
A group of friends that has played in two section championship football games and earned a SJS basketball title in 2017-18.
Alger led the Knights (20-2), who are on a 17-match winning streak, with 25 kills and 10 digs.
Setters Michael Kamps and Lukas Van Groningen, who are first-year volleyball players, finished with 16 and 12 assists, respectively. Jacob Van Groningen added seven kills and 10 digs, middle blocker Drew Van Vliet tallied four kills and two blocks, Braden Van Groningen collected eight digs and Ryan Dotinga served a pair of aces.
Ripon Christian started each game strong, taking 3-0 leads in the first and second and 4-0 leads in the third and fourth. West Campus (16-3) weathered the opening onslaught and tallied six points of its own, getting big scoring plays from its top players setter/outside hitter Samuela Waituruturu, 6-4 middle Nic Cordero and 6-2 otuside Devan Albro.
“We didn’t know too much about them coming in,” RC coach Kevin Tameling said. “We knew they had a very good setter and some other quality players. We looked to quickly identify how they wanted to attack, they were coming quick up the middle in the beginning, but once we got that closed up, they had to go the pins. We were able to adjust to that and our defense really helped.”
The spirited Warriors, to their credit, did not give up after dropping the first two sets decisively. Trailing 22-20 in the third, they finished on a 5-1 run to extend the match.
“They’re a real good defensive team,” Alger said. “No. 17 (Javier Pacheco) played a heck of a game at libero. They just pick balls up and we didn’t have many tips go down for kills.”
Ripon Christian didn’t get rattled, getting back on track in the fourth game and building an early 13-3 lead.
“These guys have closed out games late so often this season,” Tameling said. “I’ve given them a lot of latitude; they have to figure things out on their own, they can’t keep looking over to coach for advice. They’ve stepped up as leaders and really battle in tough moments.”
Ripon Christian is the first school from the southern half of the SJS to reach the finals, which takes place Saturday at Whitney High of Rocklin. The Knights will face off with No. 3 Bear River (25-5), which edged out No. 2 El Dorado in five games in the other semifinal match Tuesday. The Division III final starts at noon.
“That’s pretty special, especially for this area,” Tameling said. The SJS added boys volleyball to its spring postseason slate in 2009, but it was a sport mainly offered by Sacramento-area schools. The southern half has finally caught on, and Tameling gave kudos to other nearby squads — such as Western Athletic Conference champion Lathrop — for pushing his team to get better.
“We definitely want to represent the south part well,” he added.