State

City rivals lend support for volleyball playoffs

There's no mistaking the intensity -- it's short of anger but much more than a mere rivalry -- when Ripon Christian High and Ripon meet on the volleyball court.

The neighboring schools routinely play for the Trans-Valley League title. But bragging rights extend far beyond that, as the girls see each other on a daily basis and even play with the same travel teams.

Though Ripon High has come out on top recently -- the Indians have gone 44-1 while winning three TVL titles in a row -- RC has something that every Ripon player yearns for.

The Knights won a state title in 1999, something no other Stanislaus District team has accomplished.

That was a topic of conversation Wednesday when the teams gathered for pizza and to wish each other well in tonight's Sac-Joaquin Section title matches at UC Davis.

They'll cheer for each other tonight, too, as they're in different divisions: Ripon (43-4) faces Christian Brothers (29-6) in Division IV at 6, after RC (19-14) plays Woodland Christian (23-8) in Division V at 4.

Also, Oakdale (29-3) meets two-time defending champion St. Mary's (28-5) for the Division III championship at 6. St. Mary's beat Oakdale 3-1 for the 2006 title.

All three district teams will advance to next week's Northern California playoffs. Tonight's winners will host and the losers will head on the road.

RC prepped for the playoffs with one of the state's toughest schedules, said coach Tiger Shelton. Nine of its past foes are still playing.

The Knights' seven seniors have spent five years working toward tonight's match.

"We went to the Reno volleyball festival when they were in the eighth grade," said Shelton, whose club is led by UOP-bound blocker Andrea Terpstra and setter Candice Adema. "They have been working year-round since."

There will be no surprises when Ripon meets Christian Brothers for the third year in a row to decide the title. The Falcons won both and beat Ripon in five games this season.

Of the three district teams, Oakdale faces the longest odds: The Mustangs have not a title since the playoffs began in 1974, while St. Mary's has won 10. Only RC and Linden, 11 each, have won more.

Alexis Evans, and Jaci and Juli Powell were there for the 2006 final against St. Mary's. Coach Shelli Ponce said their experience is an asset.

"St. Mary's has good hitters who we will focus on to shut down at the net," Ponce said.

It's only the past few years that Oakdale has become a playoff regular, reaching the quarterfinals in 2007. Still, it has built a fan base.

A raucous crowd, with football player Charlie Gilstrap waving an oversized Oakdale flag as motivation, had a role in Tuesday's 3-1 win over Del Oro. The school also is sending a rooters' bus to Davis.

"Our junior high program is well organized (and) developing players," Ponce said. "I think the younger players see the game and the excitement and want to be involved.

"They, and high school players, are playing on club teams to gain experience. The experience makes a huge impact."

It's one reason Jaci Powell has developed into one of the Mustangs' top "diggers," diving about to save stray balls.

"My competitive spirit is part of what drives me," said Powell, who plays with twin sister Juli on the Escalon Impact. "Another is the satisfaction of getting an amazing dig. I think it's something you just have in you."

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at restrada@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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