Ripon heading back to Division IV final

RIPON -- The final kill of the second game had just hit the floor, and the Hilmar High volleyball team was tied with Ripon in their section semifinal match at one game apiece.

But there was no panic on the faces of the Indians players. They were calm and collected.

"It was pretty simple," Ripon coach Larry Keethe said. "They just had to calm down and play better."

Simple and to the point. And effective.

The Indians (43-4) mowed through the Yellowjackets in their final two games, taking a 25-16, 16-25, 25-15, 25-16 victory over Hilmar in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal match Tuesday night at Ripon High School.

For the third consecutive year, Ripon will face Christian Brothers of Sacramento in Thursday's Division IV championship at UC Davis. Earlier this season, Christian Brothers beat Ripon in five games.

First, the Indians had to get past Hilmar.

"We were so pumped for the first game," said sophomore setter Kelsey Johnston, who led Ripon with 29 assists. "Then we came down and made some stupid mistakes."

The Yellowjackets found openings in Ripon's defense, with middle blockers Caitlin Benning (13 kills) and Stesha Brazil (nine kills) making the plays.

"Ripon's a very strong team," Hilmar coach Mike Alvernaz said. "Taking a game from them is huge."

The Yellowjackets had another strike against them because setter Madison Harris was hampered by an ankle injury. She still led her team with 29 assists.

"Madison rolled her ankle on the last play of practice (Monday)," Alvernaz said. "But still, the girls never gave up."

Ripon, meanwhile, went to work in the final two games. Johnston found Kirsten Duren (14 kills), Ashley Robinson (10 kills) and Jenna Dunkle (nine kills) for big hits.

"We played really well at times, and we played poorly at times," Keethe said. "But this is it. We can't afford to play poorly any more.

"And if we keep playing well, we're capable of going pretty far."

Next up for the Indians is Christian Brothers, which defeated Ripon in the last two section championship matches.

"Ripon and Christian Brothers was the expected match," Johnston said. "We still had to get here, and now we're here.

"It's what we all wanted."

Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at or 578-2300.