No. 3 Lee snaps SOU's 17-match win streak at nationals

The Southern Oregon women's volleyball team pushed No. 3 Lee to five sets at the NAIA National Championships but couldn't put away the Lady Flames in the final day of pool play at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

Lee used a decisive 7-1 rally in the fifth game to snap Southern Oregon's 17-match winning streak, beating the Raiders 27-29, 25-16, 25-16, 17-25, 15-9.

The 10th-ranked Raiders (23-5) had already clinched a spot in the final 12-team, single-elimination championship bracket — a program first — but missed an opportunity to earn a first-round bye. Instead, they'll face fourth-ranked Embry-Riddle (29-5) of Florida in a first-round match today (12:30 p.m. local time, 10:30 a.m. Pacific), with the winner slated to face No. 2 Texas of Brownsville (29-2) tonight in the quarterfinals.

"I think it's as good a matchup as any that we could draw," SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said of facing the Eagles, who swept the Raiders at nationals last season. "We have the opportunity to go out and really play our game. I watched Embry-Riddle tonight, scouted them — I had a funny feeling that they might be the team that we play. They're the same team they were last year, big, and strong on the outside. But I think we're quicker and I think we match up with them well."

Against Lee (33-2), Southern Oregon dominated the fourth set, notching 12 kills on 33 swings, and took a 3-1 lead in the fifth before stumbling down the stretch to suffer its first loss since Sept. 17. Lee won five straight points, two on kills and another on a service ace, to seize a 6-3 lead in the final set. The Lady Flames' lead never dipped below two points the rest of the way, finishing the match on a kill by Christa Hutchison.

The victory earned Lee, the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament champion, a first-round bye and a quarterfinal date with the Fresno Pacific-Biola winner.

Senior outside hitter Sarah Holgen had another big day for the Raiders, finishing with 17 kills — with only four attack errors — and 24 digs. Senior middle blocker Megan Bartling added 14 kills and three blocks, and junior setter Caryn Westrick had 28 assists.

Arlene Ferreira led the Lady Flames with 22 kills on 49 swings and 19 digs, while Kelsey Leffew added 37 assists and eight digs.

The Raiders, who went 2-1 to finish second in Pool C, hit just .160 in the fifth set, with eight kills and four errors on 25 spikes.

"They were absolutely good," Rohlfing said of Lee, "but we just didn't execute down the stretch. (The previous night), offensively, we were the better team, and I still feel like we had every right play called. The setters did a great job. But we didn't execute. The hitters didn't finish."

The Raiders must rebound in a hurry in order to avenge last season's loss to Embry-Riddle. Rohlfing is confident that the team has plenty of gas left in the tank to handle the quick turnaround. The big question, he said, will be whether or not his team can get its swagger back after losing for the first time in nearly three months.

"I don't think (pool play) really did anything other than say to us that we're where we thought we were," Rohlfing said. "I think we're going to in essence have to have an epic match to beat the top three teams in this tournament, and I'm not including Lee in that top three. But what it did is say, 'Yup, we are who we thought we were, and we can play with anyone.' Now, we have to show the confidence, and that's what we lacked a little bit (against Lee)."

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