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Raiders home to defend CCC tourney title

ASHLAND — A week after winning its second straight Cascade Conference regular-season championship, the seventh-ranked Southern Oregon volleyball team is ready to work on another title defense.

The CCC championships return to Lithia Motors Pavilion this weekend as the top-seeded Raiders (27-3) open against fifth-seeded Northwest Christian (13-14) at 7 tonight in the semifinal round, putting their 12-match winning streak on the line. Fourth-ranked Eastern Oregon (28-2) — which shared the regular-season championship with SOU but lost the tiebreaker for the top seed — will play the first match of the day against 13th-ranked and third-seeded Corban (20-7) at 3:30 p.m., and the winners will meet in the final at 3 p.m. Saturday.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: SOU earned hosting rights for this weekend and the CCC’s first automatic bid to the NAIA national tournament by taking the tiebreaker from EOU, which came down to percentage of sets won in conference play.

Based on their rankings, EOU and Corban are locks to at least receive at-large bids when the 44-team national field is announced Monday. Northwest Christian will have to win its way in, with the CCC’s second automatic bid going to the tournament champion — unless SOU reaches the title match, in which case it will be awarded to the other finalist.

LOOKING AHEAD: In addition to another banner, Corban, EOU and SOU are also playing to protect/improve their spots in the NAIA Top 25 poll, which will determine overall seeding in the national tournament.

The top-20 qualifiers will get to skip the NAIA opening round and go straight to the final site in Sioux City, Iowa, where the last 32 teams standing will battle Dec. 3-7. The opening round will comprise 12 matches played at campus site across the NAIA on Nov. 23.

FIRST ROUND IN REVIEW: SOU and EOU earned byes to the semifinal round while Corban and Northwest Christian got here with wins in Tuesday’s first round. Corban downed Northwest (Wash.) in four sets (9-25, 25-16, 26-24, 25-21).

NCU went on the road to upset fourth-seeded College of Idaho in a convincing sweep (25-18, 25-23, 25-20).

TOURNEY BRIEFS: Each of the last three tournament champions — SOU (2018), Corban (2017) and EOU (2016) — are still standing, and Northwest Christian is making its first-ever semifinal appearance. The Beacons arrived here by winning nine of their last 12 matches.

SOU and EOU also shared the regular-season title last year and met in the tourney championship, where the Raiders prevailed in four sets. The Raiders’ tourney title was their first since 2011, and they were hosting for the first time since 2010. From 2003-15, SOU and College of Idaho were the only teams to win tournament championships.

Three of the CCC’s top four in kills per set will be featured: SOU’s Taylor Ristvedt (3.6), EOU’s Megan Bunn (3.3) and Corban’s Cassie Cunningham (2.7). Ristvedt led the conference in kills for the second year in a row, and her attacking average (.363) was a staggering 80 points better than anyone else posting at least five attacks per set. She’s up to 1,274 career kills, the second-highest total in Raider history.

The Raiders hit .276 collectively in CCC matches, topping the circuit for the second year in a row. (Last year’s .280 mark was the CCC’s highest since 2007.) Corban (.225) was third, EOU (.214) fourth and NCU (.177) seventh on the leaderboard.

EOU led the conference in blocks per set (2.7) for the fifth year in a row and opponents’ average (.108) for the fourth time in five years. SOU’s opponents hit .132.

SOU, Corban and EOU all split their head-to-head matchups with each other and NCU went a combined 0-6 against the other semifinalists.

The CCC produced four of the NAIA’s final 16 teams last year — SOU, College of Idaho, Corban and EOU — and the Raiders went the furthest, advancing to the national quarterfinals for the first time. Two years ago, the conference produced two quarterfinalists.

The regular season has resulted in co-championships seven times in the last 16 years, and SOU has been involved in all of them.

Southern Oregon University Volleyball.