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VOLLEYBALL: Ripon Christian drops five-set NorCal thriller at Moreau Catholic

Ripon Christian has proven all season that it is among the best of the best in Northern California, even in defeat.

On Tuesday, the fifth-seeded Knights came up short on the road against No. 4 Moreau Catholic in a five-set barnburner, 17-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-19, 12-15. The Mariners (33-6) will play in the semifinal round of the California Interscholastic Federation Division II Northern Regional on Thursday against top-seeded, Oakland powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd (33-2).

Fresh off earning a second straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship, Ripon Christian (25-6) started slow in the NorCal opener and sputtered in the end after taking an 11-8 lead in the final set. The Knights had two hitting errors and a missed serve since.

Moreau Catholic had two big blocks from Nolan Hatcher, and sophomore outside hitter Marcelo Molina-Aced bagged the final point with a kill.

“They were able to make plays, and maybe we had a little bit of tired legs,” Ripon Christian coach Kevin Tameling said. “The gym was kind of hot, it was a five-set match and we had guys playing all the way around and putting in lots of effort to get us to that point. They made plays, hats off to Moreau Catholic. We just didn’t it pull it out and that’s just sports. It’s a tough way to end, but we enjoyed the competition and today was a fun match.”

Ripon Christian was led by its two senior outside hitters who will continue playing volleyball at the next level. Joel Van Groningen (Dordt University) blasted 34 kills and three aces, while Josiah Reif (Cornerstone University) added 19 kills.

Senior setter Justin Graham played through a sprained ankle and managed to produce 51 assists, five kills and three blocks. Freshman Mason Tameling chipped in three kills, three blocks, two aces and nine digs.

“Justin came out with a warrior effort tonight,” coach Tameling said. Graham turned an ankle in the opening minutes of RC’s SJS final win over Encina Prep on Saturday. “In the first set, we weren’t sure what he was going to be like. We were trying to limit his movements a little bit, so we started slow. After that first set, he came through the rest of the match for five sets and was in on almost every point. I thought he played really well after getting through that first set.

Although Ripon Christian failed to repeat as NorCal champion, the team succeeded in playing at a higher level this season. The Knights captured their first NorCal title in Division IV last year. This season, Tameling sought out top-level competition, and though his Knights did not beat them all, they more than held their own.

“To see this group of seniors from where they started as freshmen and really continue to grow not just to get good in the sport, but to love the game and play it all the time,” Tameling said. “This year, we really wanted to be tested. Everybody wants to win and be successful and we had that opportunity last year to go ahead and do that.

“We really wanted to push ourselves this year against the top competition in the northern and central parts of the state, and I think we did that and earned some respect. We also grew from some of those challenges, whether it came from the competition or things we went through as a team.”