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Raiders reload for 2017

ASHLAND — While the Southern Oregon University women's soccer team was rightfully basking in its first championship season, head coach Jenni Rosenberg had to carve out time to prepare for the inevitable. When it was over, the challenge of replacing seven senior starters would make hitting the proverbial reset button more complicated than usual.

A year later, the Raiders are now in the thick of confronting that challenge. Though 11 players who saw the field in 2016 are back, the largest group of newcomers in Rosenberg's four full seasons — consisting of 12 freshmen, many of whom will be asked to contribute immediately — is being ushered in with urgency.

"The most important thing at this point is just learning each other's skill sets and speed, and it's going to be a gradual process," Rosenberg said. "I think there's an understanding that they need to push themselves extra hard right now to get to where we want to be, and it's made for some of the most competitive practices I've witnessed in our program."

LAST YEAR: Though SOU's 2016 season ended with heartbreak in the Cascade Conference tournament semifinals — a win short of the team's first national tournament appearance — it still went down as the most successful in Raider history. They finished 13-6-1 overall (three of those losses and the tie were against NCAA Division II teams) and went 9-2 during the CCC regular season to share the title with Carroll (Mont.). Included in that run were seven consecutive shutouts; at one point, SOU went 945 consecutive game minutes against NAIA competition without allowing a goal. For their efforts, Rosenberg was voted the CCC's coach of the year, Megan McArthur (now graduated) was the offensive player of the year and six others garnered All-CCC recognition.

PRESEASON POLLS: Entering its third year in the conference, Carroll has been picked to win a third straight title. Northwest (Wash.) — which tied for fourth in last year's standings before eliminating SOU and making a shocking run to the NAIA semifinal round — is picked second and the CCC's lone representative in the preseason NAIA Top 25 poll at No. 8. The Raiders, meanwhile, were fifth in last year's preseason poll and are third now on the strength of four returning starters — Daisy Cervantes, Jacqueline Laird, Kelsey Randalland Makena Totushek. They'll be counted on to lead the way as the Raiders attempt to replace 67 percent of their total point production.

FIRST UP: The Raiders were on the field for the first time Saturday with a scrimmage at Chico State (Calif.) and will play their first counter at 7 p.m. today in a nonleague matchup with CCC rival Oregon Tech on the Raider Stadium turf. After that, they'll go 46 days until their next home game; due to a scheduling imbalance, they'll play seven of their 11 CCC contests on the road for the second time in three seasons. Their pre-conference schedule includes NCAA Div. II opponents Stanislaus State (Calif.), Dixie State (Utah) and Sonoma State (Calif.), along with NAIA foes UC Merced and William Jessup (Calif.).