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Raiders look to wrap up another title at home

Southern Oregon’s Cascade Conference championship aspirations depended on deploying a must-win urgency ever since its last loss six weeks ago, so little will change when the seventh-ranked Raiders finish the regular season at home this week.

Needing two wins to clinch at least a share of the regular-season title for the second year in a row, SOU (25-3 overall, 16-2 CCC) will wrap up with Northwest (Wash.) (13-11, 11-7) at 7 p.m. Friday and Evergreen (Was.) (11-16, 9-9) at 5 p.m. Saturday inside Lithia Motors Pavilion. The Raiders’ season-best winning streak has reached 10, and eight of those victories were collected on the road.

After last year becoming the first CCC team to sweep the trip to College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon since 2005, the Raiders pulled it off again in dramatic fashion to move back into a tie for first place. They started the trip by keeping Walla Walla winless in loop play with a 25-13, 25-11, 25-11 decision, and entered Friday’s match at third-ranked EOU a win back of the Mountaineers in the standings. The Raiders’ 23-25, 14-25, 25-16, 25-23, 17-15 triumph marked the first time they’d overcome a two-set deficit on the road in seven years; they fought off match point and scored the last three to seal it, finishing on a Maddie Pernich solo block. Pernich had 19 kills, Taylor Ristvedt had 21 and Elliott Cook had 13, and Emma Ryan’s total of 31 digs was a career-high. A night later, they stormed by No. 21 C of I 25-16, 25-14, 25-16 by hitting .393 behind Pernich’s 13 kills and held the Yotes to .093 behind Makayla Hoyt (5 blocks) and Cook (4).

In Wednesday’s latest edition of the coaches’ poll, the Raiders climbed two spots to No. 7, their highest post since September. Eastern Oregon dropped one spot to No. 4, Corban dropped two to No. 12, and College of Idaho dropped four to No. 25. Another poll will drop next week, and the final edition is set for a Nov. 18 release at the conclusion of conference tournaments around the NAIA.

Title Talk

While the Raiders wrap the regular season in Ashland, their first-place counterpart, EOU, will play its last two at Multnomah and Warner Pacific. If both SOU and EOU win out, they’ll share the regular-season title for the second year in a row and the third time in six years. Because they split their head-to-head matchups in five sets each — and their only other losses both came against Corban — the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed and hosting rights for the CCC Tournament semifinal and final rounds will be awarded to the team with fewer conference set losses. Entering the weekend, EOU has 16 set losses and SOU has 13. The CCC Tournament will consist of the top-six teams, but SOU can clinch a bye to the Nov. 15 semifinals with one win or a Corban loss.

Briefly

  • For the first time in her career, Ristvedt was selected as the NAIA Attacker of the Week on Tuesday after pouring in 39 kills during the road trip, including six in the tiebreaker set at EOU. She moved to No. 2 on SOU’s career kills list (1,242) and still tops the CCC in kills per set (3.5) and attacking average (.359) among players recording at least five attempts per set.
  • Emma Ryan, the reigning CCC Libero of the Year, was named the conference’s defensive player of the week after averaging 4.9 digs per set on the trip. While establishing a new personal best at EOU, she also jumped to No. 8 on SOU’s career digs list (1,121). Her elite back-row play was complemented by that of Sara Fanger, who added 27 digs at EOU and C of I.
  • The Raiders will honor five seniors following Saturday’s match: Fanger, Ristvedt, Ryan, Hannah Bogatin and Nila Lukens. All five are members of the Academic All-CCC team, while Bogatin represented SOU as a CoSIDA Academic All-District selection last season and Lukens is a two-time Dakotrnics-NAIA Scholar Athlete.
  • Elliott Cook is 18 attempts shy of qualifying for the CCC attacking leaderboard, but if she did, her .367 CCC-only average would trail only Ristvedt. She’s also recorded three or more blocks in 15 of SOU’s last 16 matches.
  • The Raiders have a 27-3 record in two seasons at Lithia Motors Pavilion and are unbeaten in 21 matchups with unranked opponents.
  • They’re now 5-1 in five-set matches, and have needed to come from behind in every win.

ABOUT NORTHWEST: The Eagles enter the weekend in fourth place and playing their best volleyball of the year, winners of nine of their last 19. Their conference attacking average of .242 ranks second to SOU, and they top the circuit in aces per set (2.1). Hannah Lord (2.7 K/S, .206) is one of the CCC’s premier outside hitters, and Abigail Broussard (2.3 K/S, 1.2 B/S) is one of the NAIA’s top blockers. SOU won the first meeting in Kirkland (25-19, 25-20, 21-25, 25-14) and is 43-7 in the all-time series.

ABOUT EVERGREEN: The Geoducks’ postseason hopes are still alive as they stand in seventh place, though they’ve dropped four of their last five - all against teams with winning records. In CCC play, they’re hitting .204 behind setter Sierra Wolff (9.8 assists/set) and holding opponents to .164. Senior middle Chloee Hunt (2.6 K/S, .343) has posed matchup problems for the duration of her career. The Raiders’ 25-23, 25-22, 25-20 win in Olympia was their 32nd straight in the series.

Southern Oregon University middle blocker Elliot Cook and the Raiders look to clinch at least a share of their second straight Cascade Conference regular-season title this weekend. (PHOTO BY: AL CASE / ASHLAND DAILY PHOTO)