ASHLAND — The ankle sprain that cost Southern Oregon hitter Natalie Scheller seven matches earlier in the season appears to have healed nicely.
The senior outside hitter had 15 of her match-high 18 kills in the first two sets as Southern Oregon easily advanced to the Cascade Collegiate Conference semifinals with a 25-22, 25-4, 25-16 rout of Warner Pacific on Tuesday at Bob Riehm Arena.
The Raiders (19-10) now travel to Caldwell, Idaho, for a Friday night match against Eastern Oregon, with the winner of that advancing to the league tourney's championship match on Saturday.
"All of us just came into this game just knowing that this is our game, we're going to win," Scheller said. "We're so comfortable when we play here. It always feels good to be home."
It looked pretty good, too.
Hitting with both precision and power, Scheller torched Warner Pacific's defense while committing just two errors — both in the third set. She had seven kills in a competitive opening set, including a crucial putaway that gave the Raiders a 24-21 lead, then went off again in the second. Back-to-back monster spikes by the 6-foot-1 Bend High grad, one down the line and one to the floor, upped SOU's advantage to 12-1, and two more spikes by Scheller gave the Raiders a comfortable 20-3 cushion.
"She had a night, didn't she," Southern Oregon head coach Josh Rohlfing said. "She's finally back to health, and we weren't able to play her forever, it felt like. She played really well against Eastern Oregon (last weekend) and College of Idaho, and it just carried forward to tonight."
Warner Pacific, which won the last head-to-head meeting in Ashland one month ago, tried to regain its footing in the third set, jumping out to an early 6-4 lead on a Nicole Lisoski kill. But an attack error by the Knights (15-12) followed by a Nikki Keller dink kill kicked off a 9-1 SOU rally and the Raiders were never seriously threatened the rest of the way.
Haley Kasler had eight kills and Keller seven for the Raiders, while Renee Yomtob added 25 digs and Caryn Westrick 24 assists.
For Warner Pacific, Devan Belshe had eight kills — but all but one of those came in the first set, before she tweaked her ankle and had to be helped off the court — and Rylie Engelson had seven kills and 10 digs. Marchelle Bostick led the Knights with 15 assists.
With Westrick leading the way, the Raiders dominated the battle at the net, getting a hand on nearly every Warner Pacific spike and turning many of those deflections into kills the other way. The Raiders finished with a .306 attack percentage to Warner Pacific's .042, with the Raiders committing 10 hitting errors as a team on 111 total attacks.
"Tonight was really good in the fact that we were balanced and we were making the plays we needed to make," Yomtob said. "We were all kind of in tune and committed to what we were doing."
Belshe kept the Knights competitive in the opening set, when Warner Pacific fought back from a 16-11 deficit to get within two points late. Belshe fell to the hardwood in pain after the Knights won a point to get within 19-16 and did not return until the start of the second set.
After a block by Kristina Naff cut SOU's lead to 22-20, Raider junior outside hitter Mona Goudarzian delivered a crucial spike. Two points later it was Scheller who came through with another big kill, and the Raiders clinched the set on a Keller spike.
Now Southern Oregon heads to Idaho looking for a conference championship and a berth in the NAIA national tournament. The Raiders will have to avenge at least one, and possibly two recent losses to make it back to the big show.
Last weekend, Southern Oregon suffered back-to-back five-set losses to College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon.
"I feel really good about (SOU's chances)," Rohlfing said. "I love the fact that we got to play tonight. There's a silver lining in every situation, and losing last weekend, we got to see those teams, we played them tough and we had every opportunity to win.
"So it was great, it was fun, and we're excited to get up there and have that opportunity to play Eastern again."