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Knights cool off after hot start in NorCal opener
Clara Johnson of Woodside Priory blasts a spike past Ripon Christian blockers Stephanie Vande Pol and Teagan Manus (2) for a kill in the first game of Tuesdays CIF State Championships opener. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

RIPON – The Ripon Christian Knights started out on fire against visiting Woodside Priory of Portola Valley during Tuesday’s opening round of the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships.

But suddenly their play turned cold.

RC coach Tiger Shelton was baffled when his squad committed 11 unforced errors in the second set en route to losing the Nor-Cal regional opener, 3-1 (25-14, 17-25, 14-25, 23-25).

“This was the worst we played in about a month and a half,” he later said. “Volleyball is a mental game – we gave (Woodside Priory) the game.”

The Knights (24-11) were fresh off capturing their fifth straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division-V title. They made an early exit again from the playoffs, posting a 3-2 mark in first-round action in the last five years.

For Woodside Priory (26-5), Nor-Cal is something new,  Rick Riebhoff said.

“We’ve never made it this far,” he said. “We only had one (Central Coast) Section appearance.”

The Panthers were led by junior middle hitter Briana Willhite, junior opposite or right-side hitter Clara Johnson, and sophomore outside hitter Marine Hall-Poirier.

Tiger Shelton is familiar with Hall-Poirier, who helped pace Woodside Priory with 10 kills, 11 digs and twp aces. She’s also a member of his club volleyball team.

The Panthers arrived some two hours early to RC in preparation for the playoff match.

Yet it was the Knights who came out strong.

“I think our girls were freaked out by their play,” Riebhoff said.

RC staged a 6-1 run thanks to a pair of kills delivered by Brittany Petlansky coupled with a spike and block by Teagan Manus.

Throughout that opening set the Knights played their game with sophomore setter Andie Shelton directing that attack and Mikaela Alger, Stephanie Vande Pol, and Petlansky adding the finishing touches.

RC closed out the first set by going on a 9-1 run. During that stretch, Andie Shelton had a no-look drop and also served up three straight aces.

“We started off relaxed and in control,” Tiger Shelton said.

The Knights appeared in control early on in the second set. But then things unraveled.

Johnson’s kill along with Hall-Poirier’s two aces put Woodside Priory ahead. Willhite became a force in the middle, registering three straight blocks at one point.

“We made 11 unforced errors,” said Tiger Shelton. “Perhaps that was due to our lack of focus and concentration.”

Woodside Priory rode the momentum while taking advantage of RC miscues.

“We missed serves and we hit balls into the net,” the Knights coach said.

The Panthers continued to attack, building up a 20-10 advantage.

Woodside Priory closed out the third set with an ace by Michaela Koval and kills by Willhite and Elizabeth Oliphant.

Down 2-1, RC started out strong in the fourth set. Morgan Alger, Vande Pol and Mikeala Alger contributed kills, giving their team a 6-2 advantage.

But the Panthers kept it close, tying the set up at 16 on Hall-Poirier’s kill. Willhite, who finished with nine kills, three aces and four blocks, dropped in a pair of points to put her team ahead.

The Knights battled back on Andie Shelton’s tip shot, Morgan Alger’s ace, and a Petlansky spike. They trailed by a point after Woodside Priory was called on a handling violation.

But Willhite and Johnson took care of the rest from there for the Panthers, contributing with three straight kills while claiming the match.

Petlansky led RC with 13 kills. She also had 14 digs.

Morgan Alger added 10 kills, Kaylie Colyn managed 16 digs, and Manus had three blocks.

In addition, Andie Shelton finished with 30 assists and four aces and Mikeala Alger contributed seven kills and three blocks.

For Woodside Priory, Johnson chipped in with 11 digs, eight kills and three aces.

The Panthers will likely take on top-seeded Branson on Saturday.