RC, Ripon open NorCal playoffs tonight

How's this for a reward?

Ripon Christian High wins its third straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division V volleyball title, and opens the Northern California playoffs by facing the defending state champ.

"They just took Mt. Madonna, the No. 1 team in the state in our division, to five games, so they're still good," said Ripon Christian coach Tiger Shelton. "We're underdogs, but we've been surprising people all season."

RC had one returning starter, and senior Kelsey Tillema plays alongside two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.

"Extremely young, that's a good way to describe us," said Shelton, whose club was behind Ripon and Escalon in the Trans-Valley League. "I have four kids who weren't on varsity until this season."

RC, making its third consecutive NorCal appearance, hosts Castilleja of Palo Alto in Division 5 play tonight at 7.

The Knights won a state title in 1999, and have twice been eliminated in the NorCal semifinals this decade.

Ripon, a public high school that borders RC, must travel 215 miles north to face West Valley in remote Cottonwood in a D4 first-round match.

The Indians lost the section final to Christian Brothers, which put them on the road.

Coach Larry Keethe hopes to arrive two hours early, allowing his girls to stretch and take part in a short workout.

"The key to our victory will be the ability to adjust on the run to what West Valley throws at us," he said. "The key to victory is still the same -- serving, passing, digging and blocking. Our setting and hitting is solid if the other pieces fall into place."