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Raider women earn top seed in nationals group

Southern Oregon University will see even more of the state of Iowa than it expected starting next week at the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Tournament.

The Raiders (29-1 overall) — who moved up two spots to No. 3 in the final coaches' poll — earned a top seed in their quadrant of the 32-team bracket and drew the unranked Clarke Crusaders (19-12) of Dubuque, Iowa, in a first-round game that will tip off at 11:45 a.m. Pacific Time next Thursday.

The bracket for the tournament, which begins next Wednesday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, was released Wednesday.

SOU received one of 22 automatic bids — there were also 10 at-large bids — by winning the Cascade Conference's regular-season and tournament titles.

The Raiders will be making their second straight appearance and ninth overall at the national tournament, all since 1997.

The Crusaders hadn't posted a record above .500 since 2002 until going 20-13 last year and qualifying for their first national tournament. They lost to Davenport (Mich.) in the first round, 78-48, but returned nine players from that team this season and earned one of the Independent Athletic Association's three automatic bids.

Clarke will come into the contest with plenty of experience against the nation's top teams. The Crusaders went 0-9 against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, losing those games by an average of 19 points.

The winner will advance to play in the second round at 3:15 p.m. next Friday against one of two other Iowa schools: 15th-ranked Briar Cliff (22-9) or 19th-ranked Saint Ambrose (22-9).

SOU will be working with its best seed since going into the 1998 tourney No. 2 overall and the '99 tourney as the top overall seed.

Only two teams in Cascade Conference history have advanced to the final four — the '97 Raiders and College of Idaho's 2001 squad.

The Raiders had lost four straight first-round games until last year, when, with a No. 3 seed in their quadrant, they defeated Robert Morris (Ill.), 96-61. They went on to lose in the second round against unranked Tabor (Kan.), 72-65.

The other teams with No. 1 seeds are top-ranked defending champion Morningside (Iowa), second-ranked Saint Xavier (Ill.) and third-ranked Olivet Nazarene (Ill.).

Oregon Tech, the only other school representing the CCC in the tournament, landed at No. 25 in the poll and will take on eighth-ranked Jamestown (N.D.).

Men

SOU SEEDED FIFTH: For the third time in four years, the Southern Oregon men's basketball team is back in the NAIA Division II National Tournament. And once again, the Raiders will head to Point Lookout, Mo., in upset mode.

The Raiders (24-8 overall) came in at No. 17 in the final coaches' poll, swapping spots with the 14th-ranked Mount Mercy Mustangs (25-7) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, whom they'll take on in a first-round matchup at 8:15 a.m. Pacific Time next Wednesday.

Mount Mercy took the No. 4 seed and SOU took No. 5 in their quadrant of the 32-team bracket, which was released Wednesday. The winner will meet either Saint Francis (Ind.), the top overall seed, or Dakota State (S.D.) in the second round at 8:15 a.m. next Friday.

The first-ever matchup between the Raiders and Mustangs will be the second game of the tournament, which is being hosted by College of the Ozarks for the 17th consecutive season.

SOU, which earned the Cascade Conference's second automatic bid, will be making its sixth appearance in the tournament since 1999.

Last year the Raiders were ranked 21st and started with 10th-ranked Midland (Neb.) — the 2014 runner-up — and pulled off a 73-71 upset on Jordan West's layup at the buzzer, and then advanced to the quarterfinals for the second time in program history with a 68-62 defeat of 24th-ranked Grace (Ind.).

SOU was the only unseeded team to advance to the Elite Eight. They were knocked out by second-ranked Embry-Riddle (Fla.), 79-71, after losing a four-point lead with nine minutes left.

Mount Mercy earned an automatic bid by winning the Association of Independent Institutions tournament championship. The Mustangs are also making their third appearance in four years and fourth overall.

The Mustangs went 0-3 this season against teams currently in the Top 25 poll, losing twice to third-ranked Saint Francis (Ill.) and once to fourth-ranked Briar Cliff (Iowa). But they come into the tournament having won 15 of their last 17 games.

Elsewhere among CCC teams, 11th-ranked Northwest Christian drew 22nd-ranked Southwestern (Kan.) in its first-round game, and 15th-ranked Warner Pacific drew No. 18 Nebraska Wesleyan.

In his first season as the Southern Oregon University women's basketball coach, Alex Carlson guided the team to a top seed at nationals. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.