EASTON — The heartbreak of defeat was quickly overtaken by concern for a teammate in the CIF State Northern California Division V Regional Championships final on Tuesday.
Fourth-seeded Ripon had match-point advantages in the third and fifth sets against No. 3 Washington Union, which battled back for an improbable 17-25, 22-25, 28-26, 25-23, 16-14 win.
Washington Union (34-7) will take on SoCal No. 1 seed El Camino Real (18-18) for the state crown Friday at Santiago Canyon College in Orange.
Ripon (25-12) competed valiantly in the final set with senior outside hitter Mia Van Lewen sidelined with concussion symptoms. Van Lewen hit the side of her head against the hardwood while diving for the ball on the final point of Game 4. She started the fifth but was taken out by coach Tyler White soon after. Van Lewen was taken to a hospital following the match.
“Of course, they were disappointed from the loss, but the whole thing shifted to their friend and teammate,” White said. “Nobody left her side until she was loaded into the car and good to go. The girls prove it to me every night, but tonight they really showed their heart and passion for the team.”
Van Lewen finished with a team-high 21 kills and 22 digs. Rachel Sausedo accumulated 63 assists, 22 digs and six blocks. Sydney Thomason added 19 kills and six blocks.
Brooke Kaiser (nine kills, five blocks, 22 digs), Jordynn Russell (seven kills), Alyssa Barrios (seven kills, six blocks) and Deven Stokes (26 digs) were other key contributors. Thomason, a 6-foot sophomore middle, sparked the Indians early.
“The girls came out fired up and played beautiful volleyball,” White said. “Sydney in the middle was our saving grace tonight. She did so many amazing things and really stepped it up while Mia was doing her thing on the outside. I kept screaming at Rachel to keep feeding Sydney and they never adjusted to her until the last set.”
It could have ended in three.
White wasn’t surprised that it did not. The Central Coast Section Division V champion Panthers, led by 5-9 senior outside hitter Sydney Kuma, fought off match point on multiple occasions in the wild third set.
“I told them right before the third set that’s a good team and they’re just not going to roll over,” White said. “This is the regional finals — it’s going to be a hard-fought match and that’s what it was.”
White was proud of the fight her club continued to show in the face of adversity. Stokes, who has a history of head injuries, also had a scare after taking a shot to the head in the fourth game.
“They still managed to play a great fifth set,” White said. “We were in the lead 14-12, and for the situation we were in I could not be prouder of the group and what they did. I told them in the end that it’s hard to see right now, but they should be proud of what they accomplished and making it this far.”
Ripon mounted a somewhat surprising run to the NorCal final — the program’s first since 2008 in Division IV — following a semifinal exit in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals.