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SOU picked eighth in conference

ASHLAND — Its 2015 season was considered a competitive success by first-year-program standards, but the Southern Oregon University men's soccer team is still in the process of proving itself to the Cascade Conference.

That was clear in Tuesday's CCC preseason coaches' poll, which has the Raiders picked to finish eighth.

SOU, which opened practice Monday and opens its season Aug. 23 at Humboldt State, went 10-8 overall last year after a 5-0 start in nonleague play. The Raiders finished ninth with a 5-8 record in the conference and made favorable impressions in one-goal losses at league champion Rocky Mountain (Mont.) and runner-up Corban.

The Raiders return 10 starters from that team, which was carried by true freshmen and a handful of junior college transfers.

Last year's addition of three Montana schools — Carroll, Great Falls and Rocky Mountain — to the CCC men's soccer landscape strengthened the circuit's reputation (and gave it an extra automatic qualifier to the national tournament annually). The tradeoff is a more arduous route to the top of the standings.

Rocky, which has advanced to four straight national tournaments and was a quarterfinalist in 2015, has been picked to repeat as conference champion with eight of 14 first-place votes and 10 of 11 starters returning. Corban is second in the poll and received four first-place votes, with Great Falls and Carroll are third and fourth.

Evergreen, Northwest and College of Idaho are next, while SOU slots in just ahead of Eastern Oregon, which was also a first-year program last season.

The top eight in the 14-team loop will advance to the CCC tournament. The Raiders were within one win of a postseason berth, getting eliminated with an overtime loss to Great Falls on the final day of the regular season.

SOU opens CCC play on Sept. 16 and 17 at Walla Walla and Multnomah, which have been picked to finish 14th and 13th, respectively.