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Raiders clinch spot in Sweet 16

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — As 23rd-ranked Bellevue (Neb.) discovered this morning, the path to bringing out the best in Southern Oregon is often littered with false hope.

Finishing off the fifth-ranked Raiders proved problematic for another opponent on Day 2 of pool play at the NAIA Championships, when SOU came from behind to clinch a spot in the single-elimination bracket for the second year in a row and third time in team history at the Tyson Events Center. The Raiders’ 26-28, 25-10, 22-25, 26-24, 15-11 defeat of the Bruins was their sixth five-set victory of the season, and in all six of those they’ve needed to overcome 2-1 sets deficits.

Senior right-side hitter Taylor Ristvedt played up to her All-American billing by hammering down a career-high 25 kills in addition to seven blocks, including five kills in the tiebreaker set and a combined block with Makayla Hoyt on match point. Junior middle Elliott Cook was in on 10 of SOU’s 17 blocks, which was the team’s highest total in 23 national tournament matches this decade.

“They had a couple servers who put a lot of pressure on us and we handled it well for most of the match, but there were streaks when we didn’t,” SOU coach Josh Rohlfing said. “We just started the match with low energy, and for that to shift we had to take over at the net.”

The Raiders (31-3), whose 16-match winning streak is their longest since 2011, will play 12th-ranked Central Methodist (Mo.) (32-3) for the No. 1 seed out of Pool E at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, though both teams will be included in the 16-team elimination bracket regardless of the outcome.

CMU defeated Bellevue (27-10) in five sets Tuesday and today swept Indiana Kokomo, which the Raiders finished in four sets in their pool-play opener.

Hoyt finished with 11 kills on 22 attempts, becoming the first Raider to reach double figures without an error this season, and is hitting .488 at the tournament. Cook, who added seven kills, is up to 16 blocks through two matches after tying her career-high against the Bruins.

SOU dropped its first set for the second day in a row but nearly stole it after trailing 24-21. The Raiders claimed the lead with four straight points and went up 26-25 on a Ristvedt kill before a set-closing, 3-0 Bruins run bookended by Sierra Athen kills.

The Raiders set the tone in the second set by coercing six Bruins errors while taking a 7-1 lead, but struggled again in the third and went down 5-1 to start the fourth. They turned it around at the net, putting up four blocks during a 10-2 push that gave them a 20-15 advantage. Tied at 24-all, a Ristvedt kill and a Bruins error sent the match to the fifth.

There, it was all Raiders. They started with a 4-0 run started by a Ristvedt kill and capped by a Kadyn Jones ace, eventually going up 10-4. It was 12-10 when Ristvedt took over again, closing the match with two kills and a combined block with Hoyt.

Hoyt totaled three kills in the tiebreaker and five blocks in the match. Hannah Bogatin had another stellar outing, setting the table with 32 assists and two aces as the Raiders hit .211.

Ristvedt was the first Raider to reach 25 kills since current assistant coach Paulla Pinheiro in 2014, doing so on 55 swings and a .382 average.

Sophomore setter Olivia Galas gave SOU’s defense issues, going for 12 kills, 44 assists and 13 digs. She helped three more Bruins hit double figures: Sierra Athen (13 kills), Paige Holdsworth (13) and Coree Lipovsky (10).

Collectively, however, the Bruins amassed 41 attacking errors compared to SOU’s 21.

Emma Ryan led the Raiders with 17 digs and Jones recorded 15.