Stone Ridge Christian’s volleyball team is known for its fast starts. The Knights are the first to point out that they struggle to maintain that focus and intensity throughout the match, however.
With superior talent and depth, SRC got away with easing off the gas in Central California Athletic Association play, but Ken Shaw and his squad know it doesn’t make for a winning playoff formula.
The goal going into Tuesday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinal with Forest Lake Christian was to build from set to set. The team executed the plan well as the Knights pulled out a tight opening set and then left no doubt in a 26-24, 25-14, 25-19 sweep of the Falcons.
No. 2 Stone Ridge advances to its fourth straight D-VI title match and will take on No. 1 Woodland Christian in a rematch of last year’s championship match Saturday. The first serve is set for noon at Tokay High in Lodi.
“We weren’t expecting them to be as good as they were in the first set,” said libero Ellie Ann Vander Dussen, who had a team-high 18 digs. “So every single game, every single set, we just tried to be better than the one before it, and I think we accomplished that.
“Winning a section title is all we want. All four years we’ve been working hard for this point, so we’re going to do everything possible – the seniors and the rest of the team – to finish off with a win at the section finals.”
Fast starts in all three sets set the tone for the Knights.
The one-two punch of Aubriana Vander Woude (team-high seven kills) and Sarah Jordan (three kills, team-high five blocks) got things started. Vander Woude had two quick kills as SRC (16-0) built a 6-1 lead. Jordan turned in a block and kill on back-to-back plays to push the lead to 9-5.
Jordan was a constant presence at the net, disrupting the Forest Lake attack by getting a hand on almost everything.
“Sarah really did play well,” Knights coach Ken Shaw said. “She had five big blocks and touched multiple balls. We’ve worked the last couple days on squaring herself up to the hitter and getting as wide as possible. I felt like it really paid off tonight.”
As good as Jordan was at the net, Morgan McCary might have been even better behind the line. The junior had just one ace, but McCary’s jump serve caused the Falcons (15-7) fits, sparking many of Stone Ridge’s runs.
One such run helped the Knights push their lead to 22-15 in the opening set, but Forest Lake came storming back. Alysse Moore racked up four of her team-high seven kills as the Falcons went on a 9-2 run to tie the score 24-24.
The Knights recomposed, using a net call and Jordan block to seal the win.
“I think we picked it up after the first set,” Jordan said. “Them coming back seemed to get us going. We really focused on cutting down on our errors and forcing them to make the mistakes.”
SRC showcased its defensive prowess and passing to quickly book its trip to a fourth straight title match. The Knights raced to leads of 7-2 and 5-1 in sets two and three and never trailed the rest of the way.
“The first and last thing we do every day in practice is work on our digging,” Shaw said. “It’s our bread and butter, and it’s often what separates us from other teams. We started attacking their setter every chance we got. Our girls were intentionally hitting at her when she was in the back row to throw off their passing, and I think that made the difference in the last two sets.
“Woodland Christian is going to be a big challenge. They have some excellent middle blockers and we have our defense, so it’s a battle of contrasting styles. We have a lot of section final experience on this team, and the seniors that have come up short the last few years really want to win that first title.”