The raucous atmosphere didn’t rattle the Ripon High School volleyball team and, oddly enough, neither did the opponent.
The Indians completed their first season sweep of Hilmar in six years Tuesday evening, silencing the three-time defending league champions on their floor with a 3-1 victory.
Middle blocker Breana Barrios stood tall for Ripon, whose magic number to clinch a share of the Trans-Valley League title is now one.
The Indians have three matches remaining, and the league title would also be the program’s first in six seasons.
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“It’s always been a hard-fought battle with Hilmar for a lot of years,” Ripon first-year coach Erin Cutino said. “To take a match at their house, especially with their crowd all pumped up and behind them, that was big.”
Barrios led the way in a 25-17, 25-16, 20-25, 25-16 win, recording a team-high 15 kills and seven blocks.
“Everybody had a little piece in it. There were girls that came up with big blocks and others that made a big difference,” Cutino said. “But Breana Barrios had an amazing night hitting. She was on tonight. She was our go-to. It’s usually Sam (McCreath), but they were on her and digging her.
“When we needed a big kill, Breana was there. … That’s where we were going.”
Hilmar didn’t dig all of McCreath’s shots. She had 14 kills and five blocks. Twin sister Madison McCreath had eight kills and a team-high three aces.
Setter Lauren Weibe dished out 39 assists, while Ashlyn Eisenga had 31 digs. Makayla Buie had five blocks for the Indians, who weren’t rattled by a loss in the third game.
Hilmar (15-12, 7-2) avoided the sweep but couldn’t force a winner-take-all fifth game.
“We were thinking, ‘Hey, let’s bring it to them now,’ ” Hilmar coach Patti Harris said.
The rally never materialized. Ripon leaned on its experience – Cutino calls on six seniors, including third-year varsity player Samantha McCreath – to close out the Yellowjackets.
“They’re good. They have a solid team,” Harris said. “There are a lot of seniors out there, and that matters a lot. They’ve got a strong defense and a great libero. They have a lot of things going for them.”
It helps that Hilmar – the gold standard in the TVL for so long – is a team in transition. Harris’ roster is dominated by two freshmen, two sophomores and three juniors. The pillar of success – outside hitter Emily Baptista, The Bee’s 2015 Player of the Year – is now starring at University of the Pacific as a freshman.
“We’re pretty young, but that’s high school volleyball,” Harris said. “It’s a different team every year.”
On Tuesday, the ’Jackets were paced by juniors Mariah Ahid and Erin Benning, who had 12 kills apiece. Junior setter Hannah Pearce had 32 assists, and Miranda Gray, one of three seniors, had 26 digs for Hilmar, which remains mathematically in the hunt for a fourth straight TVL title.
Harris’ concern, though, is not with a league banner. With the right draw and continued improvement, she believes her team can make a run in the Division IV playoffs.
“We’re going through some growing pains right now, and that’s all right,” Harris said. “At this point, Ripon is pretty solid in the TVL. Our battle is getting through Escalon (at home Tuesday) and then focusing on the playoffs. The TVL is always strong in Division IV, and we’ll see how the section lines us up.”
Ripon improved to 9-0 in league and 16-3 overall. The Indians have won four consecutive matches and won’t be content with a TVL title.
Ripon has set its sights on the postseason as well. The Indians close the regular season with Riverbank, Mountain House and Hughson and can clinch a share of their first TVL title since 2010 with a win or Hilmar loss.
“I have a very senior-laden team. I have a lot of awesome leaders – very composed and very confident,” Cutino said. “That’s the big thing I talk with them about. Even though we lost the third game, they were confident they could come back and take the next one. There was never a fear or a doubt.
“They’re ready to push through league. Our focus is on sections. That’s been the big theme all year. We want to find good competition and battle and prepare for sections.”