ASHLAND — Already a hundred lineup adjustments into the season, the Southern Oregon University volleyball team will finally play its first Cascade Conference home matches this weekend.
SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing was only half joking when he made that estimation. But, whatever the number of lineups, the Raiders (5-5 overall, 2-1 CCC) are feeling better about the product every week.
That's a good thing, because the two teams headed to Bob Riehm Arena will make a more confident entrance into the building than they have in a long time, if not ever. The 21st-ranked Concordia Cavaliers (10-2, 4-0) — who are in the NAIA Top 25 poll for the first time in 10 years — are set to visit Friday, and the Warner Pacific Knights (3-10, 1-3) — who last year in Ashland ended a 32-match losing streak against the Raiders with a sweep — will be in town Saturday.
The Raiders enter the week having won five of six after last Friday's thumping of Oregon Tech in Klamath Falls. The use of freshman Lauren McGowne as the team's primary setter was the latest adjustment, and it was a fruitful one: McGowne registered career highs of 28 assists, six digs and four kills while helping three other Raiders to at least eight kills each.
Those five wins have looked like this in terms of attacking average: .306, .387, .385, .295 and .261, giving the Raiders three of the 11 most efficient hitters in the conference in Tyana Andrews (.333), Liz Madden (.300) and Sam Boehnke (.240).
Four different Raiders have led the team in kills at some point, displaying the type of balance Rohlfing had in mind coming into the season. What he didn't anticipate were the lapses in consistency, but those looked closer to getting ironed out in the 25-17, 25-19, 25-21 win at OIT.
"I was really proud of the way we played and endured throughout the night," he said. "We had moments where over the last stretch of matches we might've struggled, but we pulled out of them quicker and had fewer long lapses."
That will be critical to their success against Concordia. The Cavaliers are winless in Ashland since 2002 and have lost 21 of the last 23 in the series, but they'll come in having taken 24 of their last 25 sets played and are fresh off a sweep of Northwest Christian, which swept SOU on Sept. 7.
SOU libero Renee Yombtob's 5.00 digs per set this season are fourth in the CCC, but her efforts to break SOU's career digs record are being challenged by the Raiders' proclivity to playing short matches. Nine of 10 matches have ended in three sets, providing fewer chances to pad her total.
Yomtob is six digs away from knocking Sabrina Garboden out of third place.