RIPON — Mia Van Lewen dove forward onto the court in vain as Western Sierra delivered an ace to stay alive.
But Van Lewen stood up unfazed, and moments later, drove home the winning kill for Ripon in a 25-14, 25-19, 25-20 sweep of Rocklin-Western Sierra in a CIF NorCal Division V girls volleyball quarterfinal Thursday at Ripon High.
Ripon advances to the Northern California semifinals against top-ranked Madera South at 6 p.m. Saturday in Madera.
The No. 4 Indians (24-11) seemed just as unfazed by the state playoff stage as the senior Van Lewen was in that final sequence. Ripon dominated throughout, going on multiple long runs – including a 13-0 run to extend an 11-10 lead in Game 1 all the way to game point.
The secret sauce? Talent, sure. And also a sense of humor.
“This team is a bunch of goofballs,” Ripon coach Tyler White said. “…They are extremely silly. They’re always cracking jokes. Our group text messages are hilarious.”
The Indians fuse their passion for volleyball and their ability to laugh with one another, even in frustrating moments. With that in mind, Ripon shook off an uneven start to the match to eventually overwhelm No. 12 Western Sierra (20-7).
“We never start off strong,” Van Lewen said with a laugh. “Once we get that energy, and get a good kill, then we all have confidence.”
Van Lewen’s thunderous attacks were felt (and heard, with loud “thwacks”) constantly. She finished with a team-high 20 kills, syncing up early and often with setter and fellow senior Rachel Sausedo.
“She makes a huge difference,” White said of the 5-foot-9 Van Lewen. “She’s actually played all season long with a very injured shoulder.
“So the fact that she’s even swinging the way she is, playing through the pain and just turning that off in her brain is amazing to me.”
Sausedo dished out 26 assists, in a match where nine different Indians tallied at least one kill (Sydney Thomason pitched in eight).
“I usually try to move the ball around to different people,” Sausedo said, “especially if we’re already winning.”
Ripon created separation in the first two games behind the service line. The Indians racked up 12 aces, including six from Brooke Kaiser and three from Jordynn Russell.
“They don’t like to play boring, quiet volleyball,” White said. “They like to play loud and exciting.”
Ripon is two wins away from its first Northern California championship. But of course, focusing on stress-inducing storylines like that would be counter-intuitive to what’s made them successful.
“If we’re ahead, it’s good to be goofy,” Sausedo said. “We let loose and play our game.”