RIPON — There was no question who was getting the ball for the final point in the match Thursday when Ripon Christian dueled Le Grand for the top spot in the Southern League.
“She’s a go-getter,” Ripon Christian coach Ava Vander Woude said of outside hitter Emily Van Groningen. “She wants that ball and she wants to be the one to put it away.”
And she did. Finally.
Morgan Van Elderen and Ariel Vander Woude took turns setting the hard-swinging sophomore, but the timing was a bit off on the first three spikes that were easily dug by the Bulldogs’ back row. It went down and stayed down on the fourth, and the Knights rushed to their best player and celebrated a well-earned 17-25, 25-12, 27-25, 21-25, 15-6 victory.
“I just wanted to get it over with,” Van Groningen said. “I needed to find the power from within me and just slam it for the team.”
She finished with 24 kills on the night, matching her 24 digs. Ariel Vander Woude amassed 38 assists and 25 digs, while Van Elderen posted a triple-double with 11 kills, 18 assists and 19 digs.
“It’s a huge one,” coach Vander Woude said. “It’s a great matchup between us and Le Grand. We looked forward to this game, and it’s a fun rivalry to have. They stepped up and put everything out on the floor tonight.”
The match had it all, from one-sided sets to nerve-wracking rallies. Le Grand (3-1 SL, 10-4 overall) came out swinging and seized the opening game behind outside hitter Alexa Ultreras and Priscilla Barnett.
Game 2 wasn’t close after the Knights (4-0, 9-3) staked a 10-2 lead on the strength of Lauren Braga’s eight-point service run highlighted by three kills from Van Groningen.
The pivotal third set went back and forth throughout. Ripon Christian couldn’t pull away after Alexis Hilvers’ back-to-back kills gave it a 10-6 lead. Later, Van Groningen landed another kill that set the Knights up with match point at 24-21. The Bulldogs continued to relent before Van Groningen blasted the game-ending spike.
The energy did not carry over onto the fourth set, however, as Le Grand opened up an 8-2 lead and never trailed.
“You have those ups and downs,” Vander Woude said. “We had that emotional high then had that lull. They worked through it really well and showed in the fifth set they weren’t bothered by it at all.”
Van Groningen took over in the fifth set to help the Knights gain separation. She stuffed Ultreras and then tallied three kills for four consecutive points and an 8-3 lead.
Other Knights players stepped up in crunch time. Ariel Vander Woude had two early aces and Charlotte te Velde served a pair of her own late. Hilvers roofed Barnett in a showdown between the middles. She finished with five kills, three aces and four blocks.
Natasha Smith was had key moments all match and contributed 12 kills.
“All of these players work so well together,” coach Vander Woude said. “They mesh really well. It’s about knowing their spots and trusting that their teammates are going to be there.”
Ripon Christian 2, Le Grand 0
Kendall Pounders collected four kills and three aces, Avery McMurray swatted five kills and Jenna Hofman had 13 assists as the Knights swept, 25-17, 25-18.