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WATER POLO: Ripon boys win 2nd SJS championship
Lady Indians come up short in first title-round appearance
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Ripon High’s boys water polo team shows off its Sac-Joaquin Section Division III pennant earned Saturday with its 8-7 upset win over Dixon in Roseville. - photo by Contributed

Ripon’s boys water polo team had every reason to lose the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title game on Saturday but didn’t.

The underdog Indians shook off a jittery start and managed to hold off top-seeded Dixon in the fourth quarter while without one of their top defensive players for a stunning 8-7 victory at Roseville Aquatic Center.

Ripon also faced Dixon in the girls final but came up short, 4-3. It was the first final-round appearance for the Lady Indians, while the boys captured their second SJS banner in program history. Both teams will compete in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Division III Regionals today.

In the boys game, third-seeded Ripon (16-9) was shut out in the opening period but gave itself a chance by limiting the Rams (21-4) to a single goal in each of the second and fourth quarters. The Indians’ defense held up even after Teo West fouled out early in the final quarter, while Ben Svoboda and McKeane Beier completed the comeback charge with late goals on the offensive end.

Svoboda led the way with four goals on 10 shots, three blocks and two steals. Beier netted three goals, including the game-winner. West scored once and Brody Biedermann delivered five assists.

First-year coach Christian Britton credited Nate Selna for stepping up in place of his disqualified teammate, helping Ripon withstand Dixon’s desperate attempt to tie it in the final 2 minutes. Goalie Ben Rodgers came up with a big save, his eighth for the match, with about 30 seconds to go.

Britton also lauded the leadership of his lone senior Donovan Armstrong, who helped in guiding this youthful group comprising of 10 freshmen, one sophomore and no juniors.

“With so much youth, sometimes it lends itself to a lack of composure,” Britton said. “They were able to start encouraging each other and ultimately have the confidence to say we belong here even if shots are not falling or calls are not going our way.”

Britton disputed the final foul that DQ’d West, and the Indians felt wronged in the first quarter when they had what appeared to be a scoring shot declared a no goal. Dixon led 3-0 by the end of the period, getting each of those goals from Dylan Diaz who finished with five.

“Being shut out in the first quarter was definitely tough,” Britton said. “You can see the nerves, which surprised me. In our semifinal game (a 17-14 revenge win over Sonora) I didn’t notice any nerves and there was no sense of intimidation, which was really cool for me to see.

“I don’t know what it was that caused it, but not getting the ball in the back of the net makes things tough. You start convincing yourself the goalie is better than he really is.”

Ripon finally got on board in the second quarter but could only manage the one goal in the half. Beier put it away after a deflection by the Dixon goalie on a shot from Svoboda.

Biedermann helped spark the attack in the second half with his passing. He assisted all three of Ripon’s goals in the fourth quarter, connecting with Svoboda for the first two — which were separated by about 30 seconds — and Beier for the go-ahead backhand shot.

“We found a mismatch on one side of the pool and told Brody to look for Ben driving to the cage,” Britton said. “Every time the ball hit Ben’s hands, he made something happen.”

Ripon has at least one more game this season, as all finalists qualify for the NorCal tournament. Today, the No. 6 Indians square off with No. 3 Ponderosa (20-9) at Oakdale High. The game begins at 6 p.m. Ponderosa of Shingle Springs is the SJS Division II champ.

“I just told the boys nothing changes,” Britton said. “We keep competing the same way we always have. You guys earned this spot, so have the confidence to show you belong. We haven’t been this far in the playoffs, so let’s just be excited for the opportunity to go and experience that with most of the team being so young.

“We are by far the underdogs, but it will be a good learning experience for them. I have the highest standards for them to compete no matter who is on the other side of the ball.”

Ripon’s No. 2-seeded girls team (18-7) never led in its championship game but made No. 1 Dixon (21-5) earn its first Section crown. Gracie Nickum fired the clinching goal for the Rams. She and Ingra Simpson each scored twice.

Hailey Knief tallied two goals for Ripon, and Mia Sickler-Lopez notched the Indians’ final score that tied it at 3-3.  Ripon is seeded sixth for NorCals and faces SJS Division II champion Lodi (22-4) today at Tokay High. The game is set to start at 4.