PREP VOLLEYBALL: Bruins power past Ripon Christian, win Sac-Joaquin Section D-III Championship
Special to The Union
Bruins 3 Knights 1
(25-22, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17)
BR: Jace Rath 24 kills, 7 aces, 8 digs
BR: Brad Smith 13 kills, 1 block, 3 digs
BR: Noah Skowronski 3 kills, 10 digs
BR-: Weston Prosser 37 assists, 2 blocks, 9 digs
ROCKLIN – The wait is over.
The Bear River Bruins out dueled the Ripon Christian Knights in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship match on Saturday to capture the school’s first-ever boys volleyball title.
Competing at Whitney High School, the No. 3 seed Bruins knocked off No. 1 Ripon Christian in four dramatic sets, 25-22, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17, to bring the championship banner home.
“It feels amazing, first time ever,” said Bruins sophomore Jace Rath, who led the Bruins attack. “I can’t even put it into words. I’m just kind of still thinking about it because it’s just unreal … Everybody put their heart into it and that’s why we won.”
After trailing 17-16 in the first set, Bear River rallied behind Rath’s phenomenal serves for a 6-0 run and held on to take 1-0 lead.
“We had to come out hot,” said Bear River coach Jonathan Good, who knew almighty momentum would steal the show. “Winning that first game was huge, just so we weren’t nervous about how we played. If we’re not thinking about it these guys know what to do and we’re pretty hard to stop.”
Needing to bounce back, the Knights showed spark in the second set and jumped out front for a 14-7 lead and survived a late Bruins surge to hang on for a 25-22 win to knot the match 1-1.
Regaining control, Bear River overcame an early four point deficit and took a 20-19 edge in the third set on the eighth lead change of a see-saw battle and held on for the 2-1 advantage.
“I’m feeling super pumped,” said Bruins senior Noah Skowronski, who tallied three kills and 10 digs. “Once we get rolling that’s just how it goes. Once Jace gets fired up, Brad (Smith) gets fired up, they just start crushing it. That’s what they do … It means a lot to me, my senior year. I went to Sac-Joaquin Section (playoffs) both my freshman and junior year. We didn’t play league sophomore year. We actually didn’t have enough kids, but this is the farthest I’ve made it and it’s super exciting.”
Rath reigned at the net with a game-high 24 kills to go with seven aces and eight digs on defense. Junior Brad Smith was also solid, hammering down 13 kills to break down the Knights’ armor. Sophomore setter Weston Prosser tossed up 37 assists and came away with two blocks and nine digs defensively.
Once ahead 2-1 Bear River never looked back, feeding off the energy amongst each other to led wire to wire in the decisive fourth and final set.
“Game three and four we turned it on when we needed to,” added Good. “You can see when we get around 20-20 these guys really step up and we just took it from there. Ripon Christian is really good, had a great season. They have a bunch of really good hitters. They’re a young team like us so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see both these teams here next year.”
Good coached from the Bruins back in 2008-2009 and then took a hiatus, but returned, and now in only his second season back has brought the school its first ever Sac-Joaquin Section boys volleyball championship. Bear River went from having no boys volleyball team in 2017 and cancelling its season, to now hoisting up a Section banner in 2019.
“This is really cool for our guys,” said Good. “First time ever making it. To get the win was just extra special for the program. We only have eight guys maybe we’ll get some other people interested to keep playing for us … Pretty lucky to get these type of athletes to come out for me and stick with it. Super young kids, but they really love the sport and they want to get better everyday. As a coach I got it pretty easy.”
Bear River (26-5) will now compete in the CIF NorCal Division III Tournament. The Bruins are the No. 4 seed and will host No. 5 KIPP King at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.
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