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Raiders head to Hermiston for CCC championships

One year after making a long-awaited return to Raider Stadium, the 22nd annual Cascade Conference Track and Field Championships presented by U.S. Bank will make a stop in Hermiston today and Saturday. As always, several intriguing storylines will make the trip, too.

Last year, Southern Oregon University's men were favored but denied a third straight title when they took third with 158 team points, just behind Eastern Oregon (165) and Concordia (160) in the closest three-team finish in the meet's history. This year EOU comes in as the slight favorite over SOU — slight enough, though, that a break here or there could again tip the scale.

The Raider women were carried by athlete-of-the-meet Amelia Maguin last season and were fourth in the team standings for the fourth time in five seasons. Improved depth should have the Raiders in the mix again despite Maguin's departure, but College of Idaho is a heavy favorite to win its fourth team title in a row.

Events begin at 2 p.m. today and 10 a.m. Saturday. A complete schedule can be found above.

SOU MEN'S OUTLOOK

SPRINTS: Six different Raiders have won the 100-meter dash in the last seven years, and that trend has a good chance of holding in a youthful yet talented field. The top four seeds in the race are freshmen: SOU's Julius Shellmire (10.69 seconds) enters on top of the field and Zac Hannan (10.88) is seeded third. Cameron Bremner, who won the race (along with the 400) in 2015, has the No. 5 seed (10.92) and Hayden Saparto, last year's runner-up, is No. 9 (10.98). SOU had also won three straight 200-meter titles until last year, and Cedric Quartey is seeded third (22.09) and Shellmire fourth (22.12). Quartey is also the top seed in the 400 (49.90) – an event SOU had won four straight years until 2015, when it had no one in the top eight – and Rohan Cain has the No. 4 spot (50.25).

In the hurdles, SOU's best chances to score are also a pair of freshmen — 10th-seeded Joseph Dotson in the 110 (16.31) and sixth-seeded Robert Bierly in the 400 (56.85).

MID-DISTANCE: A year after placing 12th in a loaded 800 field dominated by seniors and All-Americans, Gary Fanelli (1:54.69) is the No. 2 seed while Aidan Paulk (1:56.69) and Matt Williams (1:56.84) (who took 10th last year) are just a couple seconds behind in the fifth and sixth spots of another tight field. The 1,500 race was equally daunting a year ago, but Jared Hixon — who claimed fourth place at the NAIA Championships in 2014 before redshirting in 2015 — leads the field with its only automatic-qualifying time (3:51.24) and the No. 8 spot on the NAIA list. The Raiders are also banking on points from Paulk (3:57.73), the No. 3 seed, and Williams (4:00.07), the No. 5 seed. They hope to score big in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, too, with NAIA auto-qualifier Kevin Poteracke (9:23.92) leading the way as the No. 2 seed and Eli Stillman (9:48.55) at No. 4 and Ben Stevens (10:15.64) at No. 8. Stillman placed sixth in 2015.

DISTANCE: In the 5,000 meters, SOU's Dylan Alexander — the reigning national champion — is one of just two men's runners in the conference with an opportunity to go back-to-back. However, Hixon also owns the top seed in that race (14:44.56) as its only NAIA auto-qualifier and Alexander (14:47.68), the No. 3 seed, will be racing for just the second time this year as the No. 3 seed after coming off an injury. The race will be pivotal for SOU — Connor Cushman (14:55.92) is No. 6, Caleb Diaz No. 8 (15:05.65) and Ryan Alexander No. 10 (15:08.17) — but it proved to be its demise last year, when the Raiders entered with four of the top six seeds but only put one in the top six. Diaz will also lead SOU into the 10K, in which he's less than a second off of an auto-qualifying mark (31:16.82). He's seeded second this year after placing fourth in 2015, and

RELAYS: SOU has the top time in the 4x100 (41.73) and will be looking to take the crown back after its streak of six straight wins was snapped last year by Corban's meet record (41.43). The Raiders haven't won the 4x400 since 2005 but have the No. 2 time (3:23.30) behind EOU.

FIELD EVENTS: Tylor King will be a heavy favorite to win the shot put — his season-best of 54 feet 5 ¼ inches is nearly seven feet better than the No. 2 seed and already makes him an NAIA auto-qualifier. Kevin Tunnell is in position to score in the shot (44-0 ½) and the discus (132-7), while Brian Sievers is No. 5 in the hammer (147-5) and No. 6 in the discus (138-0).

Zach Beltz became arguably the surprise of the season with his NAIA auto-qualifying long jump of 23-9, which was over a foot better than his previous best, and he's seeded second in a discipline SOU hasn't won in 13 years. The aforementioned Cain, meanwhile, is No. 3 in the high jump (6-4 ¼).

SOU WOMEN'S OUTLOOK

SPRINTS: The Raiders haven't won the 100-meter dash since 2007, but they have a chance to change that with No. 2 seed Margot Hamman (12.41) (who placed sixth last year and clocked the third-best time in school history this year), No. 3 seed Rakayla Tyler (12.47) and No. 6 Loghan Sprauer (12.60). In the 200, Tyler is No. 5 (25.78) and Hamman No. 7 (25.83), and the entire top-eight is separated by eight-tenths of a second. In the 400, SOU will go with Tierra Barrett (59.08) as the No. 5 seed, Sprauer (59.86) at No. 7 and Cora Gallop (1:00.69) at No. 10.

MID-DISTANCE: School record-holder Aspen Abbott is seeded third in the 800 (2:16.96) after placing fourth last year and will have to keep pace again with dominant defending champion Amy Pfaff of College of Idaho, while fifth-seeded Kayle Blackmore (2:18.98) should also help SOU's point total. The 1,500 will feature seven NAIA provisional or auto qualifiers, including No. 5 seed Jessa Perkinson (4:40.49) and No. 7 Blackmore (4:42.00). In the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Braana Weber (11:34.37) and Marisa D'Orfani (11:55.26) should be in the mix as the Nos. 4 and 7 seeds.

DISTANCE: Perkinson's outstanding sophomore campaign has been highlighted by auto-qualifying marks and school records in the 5K and 10K, but she'll sit out the latter to focus on the former this weekend. Her entry 5K mark of 17:12.31 makes her the No. 1 seed (and sixth on the NAIA list) in a race that she finished fourth in last year, but directly behind her are three other auto qualifiers from Northwest Christian, including the defending champ, Alyssa Harmon. The Raiders will be represented by two runners in the 10K: No. 5 seed Morgan Pfunder (41:12.42) and No. 9 Jocelyn Schmidt (42:24.85).

RELAYS: The Raiders are tied for the second-best 4x100 qualifying time (48.85) despite some less-than-clean handoffs and should be vying with Eastern Oregon (47.93) and C of I (48.85) for their first title in 10 years. They haven't won the 4x400 in 10 years either and are the No. 4 seed (3:59.71) after a runner-up finish last season.

FIELD EVENTS: SOU hasn't won a triple jump title in 20 years but freshman Cora Gallop (36-6 ¾) will attempt to change that as the top seed. Sprauer will be SOU's representative in the high jump as the No. 7 seed (5-0 ¼), while Sydney Norvell (9-11 ¼) and Janelle Jaegel (9-6 ¼) are seeded sixth and seventh in the pole vault. In the throws the Raiders will lean on Hannah Lambert, who is seeded fourth in the shot put (38-7 ½), hammer (133-7) and discus (125-11).