RIPON — It looked like a great match on paper, a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 semifinal featuring perennial powers Ripon and Summerville.
And it played out that way ... for 10 minutes.
That's how long it took for the powerful Indians to get in the heads of the Bears, destroying what is typically an effective passing game.
"Summerville started well and my girls came over to tell me 'this team is really good,' " Ripon coach Larry Keethe said Tuesday night. "Except for playing Escalon, we didn't a see a lot of tough matches in league."
In a matter of minutes, though, Summerville was in disarray and the Indians were on their way to a 25-19, 25-9, 25-15 victory — and will advance to their fourth consecutive section championship match.
And for the fourth year in a row, the Indians will face state powerhouse Christian Brothers. The Falcons beat Escalon — Ripon's Trans-Valley League rival — to earn its place in the final.
Ripon has yet to win one of those section finals, losing in four games in their first meeting and then dropping three in a row the last two years.
It looked as if Ripon might finally slay its nemesis in last year's NorCal championship match, winning the first two in a best-of-five match. Ripon lost the next three and was denied a trip to the state final.
"One match from state, that was a difficult match to lose," 6-foot-1 middle hitter Ashley Robinson said. "We expect to see Christian Brothers in the section final every year."
Keethe says the key for his Indians in Thursday's final is going to be confidence.
"If we can come out against Christian Brothers and play like we did tonight, it might throw some doubt into their minds," he said. "So much about us and Christian Brothers is mental. We have to believe we can win the match."
The Indians spent the night hitting their shots downward at the Bears, with 5-11 Lauren Fedderson (eight kills, four blocks) and Sonoma State-bound Robinson (seven kills, six digs) leading the attack.
"We've played varsity since our freshman year, and we'd like to leave with a win over Christian Brothers," Fedderson said. "Winning is what is important, but it will be nice to get that NorCal berth if we can't. We got it last year and made it to the NorCal final."
While Ripon has three starters from last year's team, Summerville coach Kristy Dwyer had brought a young team with her to Ripon.
"I don't have a girl who has been in the playoffs, and that experience can be an issue," Dwyer said. "I wish I knew what happened. We started well, then we stopped making good passes and that was it."
The Indians kept Summerville off balance by attacking the net with multiple players and from every angle. While most eyes were on Robinson, junior outside hitter Cheyann DePrue (12 kills) provided thunderous hits as she swooped toward the net.
It wasn't just the big girls at the net, either: setter Kelsey Johnston had six kills, as well as six aces and 28 assists while running the offense.
Ripon's athleticism around the net kept it a step ahead. Summerville was only down 12-8 in the second game, before losing four consecutive points by hitting out of bounds. That was part of a 10-point run that gave Ripon an 18-8 lead. The Indians finished the second game with seven straight points.
"Christian Brothers has got plenty of horses, and they picked up two girls after Loretto closed last year," Keethe said. "We can definitely beat them. We might have to withstand an early run, but that's where it comes down to confidence. We have to stay calm."