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SOU women's soccer makes NAIA tourney for first time

Looks of elation, shock and relief shot across the room simultaneously as the Southern Oregon University women’s soccer team watched the NAIA Championships bracket reveal Monday morning. For the first time in program history, the Raiders learned, they’ll appear in the national tournament.

SOU (11-5-3 overall) received one of 19 at-large bids and will travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to play Friday against Campbellsville (Ky.) (12-5) in the NAIA Opening Round. The winner will play Saturday against host William Carey (Miss.) (18-1) — the top overall seed and defending NAIA champion — for a trip the tournament’s final site in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Game times have yet to be announced.

The tournament expanded this season to 46 teams from 31, comprising 26 automatic qualifiers, 19 at-large and a national host bid that went to Mobile (Ala.). Mobile will not have to participate in the Opening Round, while the other 15 final-site spots will be decided by the end of Saturday. The top-15 overall seeds will have Friday off.

The Raiders’ season seemed to be in jeopardy after they finished fifth in the Cascade Conference regular season at 7-3-2 record and were eliminated by Rocky Mountain (Mont.) in penalty kicks in Wednesday’s semifinal round of the CCC Tournament.

They were likely saved by three non-conference upsets, which pushed them to No. 34 in the NAIA’s Modified Ratings Percentage Index (MRPI), a computer ranking taken into account by the NAIA Soccer Championships Selection Committee. Before scoring a win against NCAA Division II team Sonoma State (Calif.), the Raiders went on the road to defeat Westmont (Calif.), the NAIA Championships No. 7 overall seed, and Vanguard (Calif.), the No. 11 overall seed.

SOU finished three spots ahead of Oregon Tech, the CCC’s regular-season champion, in the MRPI, and tied the Owls in their only matchup. The Raiders will enter the tournament having gone 6-0-1 in their last seven games and haven’t given up a goal in their last 687 game minutes.

OIT, Eastern Oregon and Rocky Mountain (Mont.) will all represent the conference in the Opening Round, though all three teams will also be on the road.

Action at the NAIA Championships final site will take place Dec. 2-7.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsSouthern Oregon University freshman forward Baylee Touey, right, and the Raiders will make their first-ever NAIA national tournament appearance in Mississippi on Friday.