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SOU's conference title defense begins

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University volleyball team was unbeaten at home last year for the second time in four seasons, and the 16th-ranked Raiders will get their first chance of 2015 to protect Riehm Arena this weekend as Cascade Conference play begins.

The Raiders (7-0) — last season's CCC co-champions and this season's pick to finish second — welcome Corban (2-4) to town for Friday's 7 p.m. match and will host Northwest Christian at 5 p.m. Saturday.

SOU's start, which includes wins over two ranked opponents, is the program's best since 1991, when the Raiders went undefeated through their first 17 matches. Last weekend the Raiders became the 10th NAIA program with 1,000 wins while mowing down three opponents in straight sets at the U.C. Merced Invitational. The odds are in their favor to prolong the streak, too: SOU has won 24 consecutive matches against Corban and 17 of 18 all-time against Northwest Christian.

"Last weekend felt very yeomanlike; we just kind of went in and took care of business and improved throughout the tournament," SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said. "That's what we're focused on doing right now, just continuing to close gaps and move forward."

Outside Perspective: Departing with last season's graduating class were 78 percent of SOU's kills recorded during conference matches. All-star outside hitters Motade Atandaand Paulla Pinheiro were responsible for most of those. And so far, Corynn Kopra and Tyana Andrews have been responsible for picking up most of the slack.

Andrews had three kills total during CCC play in 2014, playing almost exclusively at the setter position, and currently averages four kills per set while having recorded 16-plus kills four times this season. Kopra, on the floor for the first time since the 2011 season at Western Oregon, has gone for 10-plus kills in all seven matches with a season-high of 20 against Vanguard (Aug. 20). Andrews, Kopra and Warner Pacific's Janessa White are currently the players ranking in the CCC's top 10 in both kills and attacking average. Andrews also ranks second in the CCC in blocks with 24 assisted.