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VOLLEYBALL: Ripon Christian sweeps Vacaville Christian for 17th SJS title
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Kayla Kootstra, second from right, celebrates her first Sac-Joaquin Section championship as head coach of alma mater Ripon Christian on Saturday. The Knights swept Vacaville Christian 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 at nearby Ripon High for the Division V title. - photo by GARY JENSEN/

Top-seeded Ripon Christian repeated as Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champions Saturday with a 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 sweep of No. 3 Vacaville Christian at Ripon High School.

It is the Section-leading 17th blue banner program history for the Knights, who now await the release of the NorCal brackets from the State CIF office Sunday evening.

“I think we worked hard this year to improve and to get to a point where we were the team to beat,” Knights coach Kayla Kootstra said. “I think Vacaville has a great program and they showed up to play today and they took us out of our system quite a bit but I was really proud of the girls the way they persevered and pushed through even when it wasn’t necessarily our best volleyball.

“In each of the three sets we made a good service run to pull ahead and give ourselves some breathing room so if we made a mistake or if there was a call that didn’t go our way it didn’t impact the overall feel of the game as much. We have been working a ton on serving and passing as those are the basics of volleyball because if you can serve and pass you are going to at least compete to win games and the girls were able to come out and do that today.”

The longest service run for Ripon Christian (35-5) came in the first set when the Knights turned a 13-9 deficit into a 21-14 lead. Returning to the court for the first time in three weeks due to a knee injury, Ripon Christian’s Avery McMurray (nine kills) tallied three kills and block in that first game with one of her kills that put the Knights ahead 23-17 coming with so much force it left the Falcons (21-4) running for cover.

“I reach for the ball as high as I can,” McMurray said. “I look for the open holes and I swing.

“It felt great to get back on the court. I didn’t feel any pain and the brace helped me a lot and I am ready to get after it.”

Having McMurray back gives opposing teams someone else besides Emily Van Groningen (14 kills, eight digs) to worry about, and Van Groningen was able to work point-scoring tips into her repertoire of pounding kills.

“Their two middle blockers were all over me,” Van Groningen said. “They probably watched film on us and knew where I was going so I had to be really smart with what I was doing and making sure that I was not just slamming the ball – that I was hitting it where they weren’t.

“The tips were working really well.”

Thrust into the role of setter for Ripon Christian late in the season, Jenna Hoffman performed comfortably with 31 assists along with eight digs.

“It’s great,” Hoffman said. “I am getting more comfortable out there. We have a great team and they get the passes to me and then I can get it to them and they put it down.

“We have been wanting to get to this point all season. We had some rough spots along the way but we were able to fight through it.”

With Vacaville Christian staying stubbornly close the third set, the Falcons crept to within 18-16 when the Knights went on a 5-1 run behind two aces by Leah Van Wyngarden. Earlier in the set Van Wyngarden blasted to back-row kills and nearly had a third. Although Vacaville Christian managed to somehow return that last shot by Van Wyngarden, Van Groningen was waiting for it and hammered a kill to end the volley.

“It comes down to communication and trust,” Van Wyngarden said. “I trust in my setter to feed me and things worked out.” 

Taylor Postma posted five aces for the Knights and Ava Van Groningen added four.

Kirra Martin posted 10 kills and two blocks for the Falcons.