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Vacation's over: Grizzlies, Raiders go to work

It may feel like the height of summer, but the fall sports — season looms just days away for area collegiate and prep athletes.

Over the weekend, Southern Oregon University football — and volleyball players reported for fall training camp and Ashland High — athletes start daily doubles on Monday, though several teams have already — begun workouts together.

Since mid-July, the Grizz football team has met on a voluntary — basis to lift weights and work on speed and agility. According to Ashland — coaches, the turnout has been strong even though the players don't have — to attend.

But the relaxed workout environment changes very quickly. — The next couple of weeks should be nothing less than hectic and exhausting, — as fall sports schedules kick into gear.

The Raider volleyball and soccer teams open their preseason — play next weekend and the high school regular season begins in three weeks. —

A new cast

"We're just taking baby steps," Raider head volleyball — coach Paul Elliott said. "It's going to be a great group, very receptive — to coaching."

The Raiders return eight players from their 2003 Cascade — Conference and NAIA Region I championship team. However, Southern will — miss three-time All-American power hitter Kristina Matchett, as well as — Lindsey Atkinson and Sara Tatom, the three seniors from the 2003 team. —

The Raiders welcomed 10 rookies to the squad at the first — all-team meeting on Saturday. Eight players are true freshmen; two have — transferred from other collegiate programs.

"We've recruited to replace those," Elliott said. "Now — it's just a matter of developing the players to play at the level we're — used to."

Four days into practice, Elliott feels like the team has — already won some improvements.

"We're just handling the ball better, moving together — better," he said. "Our freshman kids have all made strides."

'Blue-collar'

Outside McNeal Pavilion, on the practice football field, — Raider head football coach Jeff Olson has seen similar success across — the four days of practice the football team has put in.

"I'm very pleased so far," Olson said. "So far the work — ethic has been very solid."

For the first time in more than five years, Southern started — off training camp without the go-to guy they got used to in Griff Yates — and then Dusty McGrorty.

"It's a blue-collar team," Olson said. "That's really — how we're approaching this. This is a year where we're saying 'It's everybody.'"

The Raiders started daily doubles Tuesday and will continue — the two-a-days through Aug. 27 to work on fundamentals and, hopefully, — define the starting lineup.

"We certainly have to solidify starting roles, go two-deep," — Olson said. "We have to keep distractions out. We certainly need to see — leadership surface and be consistent."

But already Olson can see strengths in his 2004 squad. —

The chemistry and discipline of the group have been evident, — and the coaches have been impressed by the level of fitness the players — have at this point in the training process.

"Overall, this may be the fastest team we've ever had," — Olson said. "I think we're going to be a very athletic team."