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SOU volleyball team wins first pool play match at nationals

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — For the first chunk of its NAIA Championships pool-play opener against Indiana Kokomo, Southern Oregon looked like a team that had been off for 16 days. By the end of it, SOU resembled a team capable of making another run.

On Tuesday at the Tyson Events Center, the fifth-ranked Raiders needed a set to shake off its rust before recovering for a 21-25, 25-22, 25-15, 25-15 victory in Pool E action. Their return to form was enabled by Taylor Ristvedt’s 15 kills, Elliott Cook’s 10 kills and six blocks and Makayla Hoyt’s 10 kills on 19 swings.

The Raiders (30-3 overall) have hit the 30-win mark in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1991-92, which is the only other time the program accomplished the feat. Their winning streak is at 15 going into Wednesday’s 8 a.m. Pacific Time matchup with 23rd-ranked Bellevue (Neb.).

They’d won 18 consecutive sets before running into the IUK (27-12), which was seeking its first-ever pool play win out of the River States Conference.

Lizzy Sokeland (12 kills) and Erinn Adams (11 kills) pushed the Cougars to a first-set triumph in which they attacked at a .350 average, but the Raiders dropped them to a combined clip of .029 over the next three sets.

Cook was responsible for the pressure at the net, notching five-plus blocks for the 10th time this season, and Kylie Ristvedt and Taylor Ristvedt assisted three apiece. Senior libero Emma Ryan stayed hot in the back row with 25 digs — the second-highest total of her career in a four-set match — and Sara Fanger added 10.

Cook, Hoyt and Taylor Ristvedt each recorded at least 10 kills for the third time in SOU’s last nine matches; they didn’t all hit double figures once through the first 24. Tehani Faitau (21 assists) and Hannah Bogatin (20 assists) orchestrated a .226 attack, also setting up Maddie Pernich for nine kills and Kylie Ristvedt for four.

The opening-frame disappointment was followed by three straight Cougar points to open the second before the Raiders scored five in a row. Up 21-20, a Cougar attacking error and kills from Hoyt, Pernich and Taylor Ristvedt evened the match.

There was little trouble the rest of the way: They jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the third and used an 8-1 run with six attacking errors — two on blocks — to go up 17-9 in the fourth.

Taylor Ristvedt’s first kill of the day was the 1,300th of her career, and Ryan eclipsed the 1,200-dig mark.

The Raiders can clinch a spot in the 16-team elimination bracket if they defeat Bellevue and No. 12 Central Methodist (Mo.) beats IUK on Wednesday. In Tuesday’s other Pool E match, Central Methodist outlasted Bellevue in five sets.