RIPON -- When Ripon High dropped the first nine points of the opening game Tuesday night to Bret Harte, coach Larry Keethe had to be a little worried.
While his Indians entered the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV volleyball playoffs as the top seed, they also started the postseason as one of the youngest teams in the field, with only one senior, five freshmen and three sophomores.
Experienced in the playoffs, they're not. But talented? You bet.
Ripon rallied to win that first game 25-21, then sailed along at 25-16 and 25-18 to sweep the Bullfrogs in a first-round match.
"It was a little scary, and our girls were just playing stupid and making a lot of errors," Keethe said. "We're pretty young. But we just came back and won."
That Ripon (32-7) can make it into the playoffs as a top seed is a tribute to the program Keethe has helped to build and maintain. He holds annual volleyball clinics for junior high kids in the district, and a large number of the girls in his program are playing competitive volleyball in the off-season.
It's a stark contrast to the player pool from which Bret Harte coach Richard Juarez draws in and around Angels Camp. His Lady Bullfrogs team (19-13) sports 11 juniors and only one senior, but lag far behind the Lady Indians in experience.
"Our junior high feeder programs play one month of volleyball, and four months of basketball," Juarez said. "Our girls have just started playing competitive volleyball year-round in the last year, unlike the volleyball programs in the valley."
Still, the Lady Bullfrogs started hot on Tuesday, jumping out 9-0 in the opening game to stun the home crowd.
"They had a lot more power than I thought and impressed me with their outside hitting," Keethe said. "They played well and are a fun team to play."
After that, however, reality and experience took over, and the Lady Indians were not threatened in the final two games. Junior setter and outside hitter Kirsten Duren led the way with nine kills, while junior setter/libero Meredith Perkins notched 29 digs and seven aces.
"The thing that really surprised me about Ripon was their intense serving, and that's something our girls are not used to seeing," Juarez said. "But certainly, we did not bring our best game tonight."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.