RIPON — Kelsey Tillema sniffed back tears as she hugged her teammates Tuesday night. For many of her Ripon Christian teammates, a final-game loss at the Northern California Division V Championships meant only, "Wait 'til next year."
But for Tillema, it was "Thanks for the memories."
"I can't even comprehend it's over. I've been doing it for so long," Tillema said. "For it to be my last (high school) game, it's hard to wrap my head around it."
Tillema, a 5-foot-10 senior, can rest secure in the knowledge that her RC team ventured far deeper than expected into the playoffs. The Knights just collided with your basic immovable object, the defending state champion Castilleja Gators, who walked out of RC Gym with a first-round 25-11, 22-25, 25-13, 25-18 victory.
Ripon Christian (17-17), young and feisty, hustled to a victory in the second game as it rode a wave of emotion from a crowd of about 400. Only Tillema and libero Laura Barry were seniors. Many of the rest were underclassmen. The team's only two club players provide future hope — the clever setter Michelle Terpstra, a junior; and a converted gymnast, freshman Brittany Petlansky.
The Knights got here by sweeping four matches without losing a game en route to a third straight Sac-Joaquin Section title, a nifty feat for a No. 10 seed. Problem was, Castilleja — a girls school from Palo Alto — brandished the kind of middle offense and tall front line that RC couldn't answer.
Castilleja (18-12), on the road due to a loss in the Central Coast Section final, pounded downhill most of the night with 6-1 sophomore Hannah Boland and 6-1 Laura Rosa. Tillema and her mates rallied in Game 2, however, as RC protected a game-long lead. A block by 5-11 junior Emily Leahy and a long Castilleja serve drew RC even.
The visitors quickly stabilized by jumping to 11-3 leads in both Games 3 and 4, deficits too large for the Knights.
"I didn't expect to be in the playoffs and I certainly didn't expect to sweep through the playoffs (until tonight)," RC coach Tiger Shelton said. "That's an incredible accomplishment."
The 5-7 Terpstra, armed with a running rocket of a serve, kept RC respectable with eight kills, three aces and 17 assists. Her experience will carry the Knights the next two years.
But for Tillema, the only returning starter, the loss became a page-turn: "Time for basketball."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.