Off and running

Heading on the road this weekend, the Southern Oregon University women's basketball team opens Cascade Collegiate Conference play against potentially the toughest test it could face all season.

The Raiders (3-1) face off against the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the CCC, respectively, when they tip off against Eastern Oregon University tonight and turnaround to play The College of Idaho Saturday evening.

"Starting with the preseason one and two is the toughest road trip of the season," SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy said about the early-season test.

A key to Southern's early success has been the steady play of super sophomore Jackie Speer. Speer, last year's conference Freshman of the Year, is averaging a double-double for the Raiders with 14.3 points and 11.7 rebounds, and is Southern's workhorse in the paint.

Speer's play has helped key a Southern attack that is outrebounding and outscoring opponents by an average of 15 rebounds and 12 points a game. Senior guard Chelsey Muri (formerly Zimmerman), a first-team All-CCC player the last two years, is the sparkplug for the Raider offense. Muri's 11.7 points and 3.0 assists per game help a young, but experienced Raider offense.

"It's still early for us," Kennedy said. "We have a young team with some experience, but we have to play more games together. To start conference play this early is a big test for us."

The Raiders, picked to finish third in what should be a very competitive conference this season, hope that some of the new faces on the team will help get the team ready.

Rhiannon Dickison, a transfer from Colorado Christian University, has contributed early, averaging 10.3 points per game. Fellow transfers, Kellyn Cooper and Ashley Baker, add immediate rebounding help to the Raiders, 6.0 and 5.3 rebounds per game, respectively.

That experience will come in handy when the action starts against the Mountaineers in La Grande. EOU returns 11 players from last year's conference championship team and is hungry to avenge their early exit from the NAIA national tournament last year.

The Mountaineers are lead by guards Laura Olsen (17.0 points per game) and Breana Olson (14.0 points and 2.0 assists per game). The two help spark Eastern's defense, which enjoys a plus-7.3 turnover per game margin.

The College of Idaho is led by a pair of star seniors. Guard Whitney Clark and forward Denise Hill average 15.5 and 16.8 points per game, respectively. The 'Yotes average two fewer rebounds than their opponents, but shoot a staggering 41 percent from 3-point range.

"(The 'Yotes) have a different style from us," Kennedy said. "They are a full court team and play hard defense all the time to get you out of your style of playing."

"The next few weeks will tell us a lot about this team."

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