ASHLAND — The ninth-ranked Southern Oregon University men's wrestling team is ready for a fight within the Cascade Collegiate Conference as the 2017-18 season begins in earnest this week.

How competitive is the CCC expected to be? In the preseason coaches' poll, the Raiders were chosen as the favorites after last season winning their seventh West Region title in nine years. But in the NAIA preseason poll — which is calculated based on points awarded for individual national rankings — they're behind fellow conference members Providence (Mont.) at No. 3, Menlo (Calif.) at No. 4 and Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) at No. 8.

Led by returning All-Americans Tanner Fischer and Hunter Hodges, 23rd-year head coach Mike Ritchey believes he has a lineup that's up to the challenge. Ritchey, who owns a career dual record of 212-86, guided the Raiders to their ninth straight top-10 finish at the NAIA Championships last season at fifth overall and extended the program's streak of consecutive winning seasons to 47 with a 9-7 mark.

"We have some veteran leadership from guys who are ready to take the next step and some youth that is ready to contribute," Ritchey said. "I think this is a team that's hungry for a trophy and we have a good group of coaches working with them. It's a hell of a tough conference with a lot of teams that can win it, but luckily we're in that conversation."

PRESEASON RANKINGS: SOU will start the season with six individuals ranked top-20 nationally in their respective weight classes: No. 3 Hunter Hodges (157), No. 3 Andrew Ramirez (141), No. 5 Tanner Fischer (197), No. 5 Devin Poppen (141), No. 14 Chandler Michael (149) and No. 16 Zane Wardwell (285). Ramirez is the top-ranked CCC wrestler in his class, while Menlo leads the way with four CCC favorites.

LAST YEAR: While compiling a 9-7 record in 2016-17, six of the Raiders' duals were decided in the final bout. In the NAIA West Region Championships — which consisted of the same teams that will now compete under the CCC umbrella — SOU won its 14th title during the Ritchey era with 131 points to 117 for runner-up Great Falls (now known as Providence) behind championship efforts from Tyler Cowger (149) and Devin Poppen (141) and six more top-three placers. At the NAIA Championships, seven of SOU's eight qualifiers contributed points to the team's fifth-place showing. Cowger reached the semifinal round — eventually placing fourth to become the third Raider ever to notch four career top-five finishes — and so did Hunter Hodges (157), who also ultimately place fourth. Tanner Fischer (197) and Tyler Orr (174) became All-Americans with seventh-place finishes, while Poppen and Chandler Michael (157) were both just a win short of reaching placing rounds.

Men's Soccer

RCC EARNS AWARDS: The Rogue Community College Ospreys men’s and women’s soccer programs earned postseason awards on Wednesday in the Northwest Athletic Conference.

Haley Janky was awarded a trip to the NWAC All-Star game. Janky and fellow sophomore Krystal Van Dyke were also acknowledged for their academic excellence during their two years of competition.

The Ospreys men also had an All-Star selection in Mauricio Sanchez, who earlier in the season won player of the week recognition for his stellar defensive play. The men’s program also had three players awarded for academic excellence in Alex Bauer, Trenton Luebbert and Sebastian Tovar. Head Coach Greg Millick was named coach of the year in the South Division of the NWAC.

The RCC men was one win away from a division championship, was ranked fifth overall, only allowed 14 goals and played its first ever playoff game. The award to Millick means he will be one of the coaches of the men’s all-star game.

The NWAC All-Star games are Nov. 12 in Seattle.