ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University volleyball team provided surprises in both of the season's first two weeks, but the Raiders wouldn't mind getting a little more predictable this weekend.
Two tournament outings, one winless and the next undefeated, will be followed by the chance to maintain a trend of dominance in their first pair of Cascade Conference matches.
The Raiders (3-4 overall) are set to head north for dates Friday with the Corban Warriors (2-6) in Salem and Saturday with the Northwest Christian Beacons (4-2) in Eugene. Both matches are scheduled for 7 p.m.
SOU has historically had the upper hand against both schools, going 10 years since their last loss to Corban and undefeated all-time against NCU (13-0).
Not that these Raiders — who were left out of the CCC's top two spots last year for the first time since 1999 and picked to finish third again this season — are coasting on historical merits.
"We know the level (of play) is going to be a little higher now that we're into conference, and some of us haven't experienced that," SOU hitter Mona Goudarzian said. "But right now I think we're about as prepared as we can be for it."
Goudarzian, a senior, was instrumental in an improved SOU attack that hit .306, .387 and .305 in sweeps of Simpson, Menlo and Lewis-Clark State to cap its preseason at the Paul Elliott Invitational — a week after topping out at .108 at the Biola Invitational.
Senior hitter Liz Madden leads the Raiders with 2.57 kills per set, followed by Goudarzian (2.25) and junior Paulla Pinheiro (2.10). Lindsay Verboort and Lauren McGowne, who make up SOU's duo of setters, are ninth and 10th in the league at 5.36 and 5.16 assists per set, respectively.
Eight different Raiders are averaging at least one kill per set.
"That's kind of the biggest thing with this team; we have a lot of strong players and a lot of different skillsets," Goudarzian said. "There's always someone ready to go."
SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing isn't exactly sure what to expect out of any of the teams involved this weekend, including his own.
"It's difficult to gauge where we are because every week there's been one more step of adding something new," he said. "Now we add the bus trip to go play in front of someone else's crowd for the first time. That'll be a test."
The Warriors lost their first six matches but have since won two straight. Their play showed signs of improvement in loss No. 6, when they took a set from 25th-ranked Carroll, and continued in wins over Mills and George Fox. Miah Smith (2.43 kills per set) and Olivia Shropshire (2.29) are Corban's biggest hitters, but the Warriors have been limited to a .117 attacking average.
NCU, on the other hand, owns the second-most efficient attack in the league at .222, and has held opponents to a league-best .075 mark, thanks in part to a presence at the net that has produced 2.12 blocks per set.
NCU's 6-foot-2 middle, Gabrio Chandler, is first in the CCC in hitting average (.468), fourth in blocks per set (1.00) and fifth in kills (3.17). Fellow 6-0 middle, Chelsea McGowan, is second in hitting (.468).
"(The Beacons') setter, their hitters, their libero have all been in the program three years and they're going to be ready to compete," Rohlfing said.
"Both of those teams gave us some problems last year."
Northwest Christian was picked to finish fifth and Corban ninth in the CCC preseason coaches' poll.