Ripon volleyball falters in NorCal title

SACRAMENTO -- It's become one of the most intense volleyball rivalries in the Sac-Joaquin Section, and Ripon and Christian Brothers have produced thrillers the last four years.

Tuesday, though, was anything but.

With a berth in the state Division 4 championship at stake, Ripon once again fell victim to its No. 1 nemesis.

Christian Brothers rallied from deficits in each game for a 25-21, 25-20, 25-13 sweep in the Northern California championship match -- the second year in a row the private school beat the Indians for the regional title.

It's also CB's ninth consecutive victory over Ripon, a streak that includes four Sac-Joaquin Section finals in addition to the NorCal finals.

"We are not going to lose to Ripon," said 5-foot-9 outside hitter Jessica Jones, who dominated play with her powerful right arm. "We know their style of play, who their hitters are, and we know how to play them."

She wasn't being brash, just honest.

The Falcons, blessed with an array of front-row players who soar above the net, exploited the few holes in the defense and forced Ripon to do much of its hitting from the back row.

Jones frustrated Ripon by drilling her shots left to right, rather than challenging the heart of the defense. Her approach was particularly effective when 6-foot-1 middle hitter Ashley Robinson was in the back row.

Ripon tried to block Jones' shots in the first game, but she kept shooting the ball through the sea of arms.

She had a key kill in the opener, after Ripon got within 23-20, and served four straight points in the second game to give CB a 15-13 lead. The Indians got within 19-17 in the second game, before CB exploited unforced errors to pull away for the victory.

Unforced errors and an inability to maintain a lead doomed the Indians.

They led by at least three points in each of the game, but also committed at least eight unforced errors in each of the games.

It was quite a contrast from two weeks ago, when Ripon trailed 2-0 before winning the next two games. The Indians eventually lost the fifth game, 15-12.

There was no such drama this time, as Christian Brothers used its depth and height to reach the state championship match for the second year in a row.

While Ripon relied heavily on the Sonoma State-bound Robinson and the 5-9 duo of Cheyann DePrue and Coryn Hernandez, CB was able to spread kills among the high-flying Jones, 6-3½ Megan Anders, 5-9 Erica Cuevas, 6-foot Katie Hoekman and others.

Anders was a formidable obstacle when she positioned herself in the middle, ready to swat back any ball. She's heading to Santa Clara on a scholarship, and it's easy to see why the Broncos love her. So do her teammates, who played against her last year.

Anders is one of seven players who arrived at CB this fall, following the closure of Loretto -- another private school that built a volleyball powerhouse.

"Ripon only has a few good hitters, I'm not trying to make it sound bad, and we knew they would keep going to them," said Anders, who had eight kills and three blocks. "We were able to move the ball and that kept them guessing where it would come from."

Ripon, which won the first game in each of its first two NorCal games on the way to 3-1 wins, looked on the way to doing it again when it led 14-10. Robinson was responsible for two points during a three-point run, but then things began to go awry for Ripon.

Two unforced errors led to a CB run that tied it at 18, then two more unforced errors allowed CB to go ahead 23-19 in the first game. Ripon led 13-10 in the second, but Jones served five straight points -- with Anders' kill making it 14-13 and Jones' ace making it 15-13 -- and the Indians never regained the lead.

Ripon was within 19-17 in that second game, before CB scored four unanswered points -- the last two coming on balls that Ripon drove out of bounds.

Ripon had eight unforced errors in each of those games, putting too much power into its shots in an attempt to get the ball past CB's dominant front line.

Of course, facing a two-game deficit wasn't new to the Indians. Remember the section final, they said.

A quick start to the third game boosted their morale. Robinson's crowd-pleasing kill came in the middle of a three-point run to start the game, and she drove another kill past CB minutes later to tie it at 5.

Just as quickly, the momentum swung back to CB.

CB's Sarah Biondi served three consecutive aces, the first touching the back line and the next two landing between Ripon's front and back lines. It quickly went to 19-6, and CB was never threatened as Ripon made 10 unforced errors in the final game.