Raiders go out with a 'pow'

Already eliminated from championship contention, the Southern Oregon volleyball team entered Thursday's match against Briar Cliff with a new set of goals.

"This was the last match of an amazing season," assistant coach Jessica Walters said, "and all the girls wanted to do was to go out with a pow and make a statement."

Done and done.

The Raiders easily dispatched Briar Cliff in straight games to wrap up what turned out to be a dramatic three-day adventure through the pool play portion of the NAIA National Championships in Sioux City, Iowa. A day after losing a five-game thriller to No. 1 Lee, 14th-ranked SOU crushed Briar Cliff, the host team, 25-11, 25-17, 25-20 at the Tyson Events Center to finish 1-2 in pool play, 24-5 overall.

Lee beat 12th-ranked Embry-Riddle in four games Thursday to earn the top seed out of Pool A and Embry-Riddle, which swept Southern Oregon in three back-and-forth games Tuesday, earned the other Pool A spot in the final 12-team single-elimination bracket, which begins today.

Southern Oregon head coach Josh Rohlfing was unable to make the trip to Sioux City, staying behind to recover from an undisclosed medical condition. Senior setter Lindsey Stone said the surprise late scratch — the Raiders didn't find out that he couldn't go until Sunday night — did not cost the team on the court.

"Truth be told, Josh had prepared us so well and his philosophy in the latter part of the season was that he wanted us to be more dependent on the other coaches," Stone said. "We felt his support. We knew that he was doing everything that he could to get to us "… and we just kept doing what we had been doing the last half of the season."

That was evident Thursday, as the Raiders racked up 51 kills with just five hitting errors for a phenomenal .451 attack percentage against a Briar Cliff team that was swept in all three of its pool play matches.

SOU junior outside hitter Sarah Holgen tallied team highs of 16 kills and 13 digs to lead the Raiders, while Leah Bergstrom had 12 kills and Stone 45 assists and three aces. Leanne Stennett added 10 kills and eight digs for the Raiders, who won for the 12th time in their last 14 matches.

Monica Boeding had 10 kills, Chehala Pace added nine and Erin Frank finished with 33 assists to pace the Chargers (20-17).

Southern Oregon set the tone early, winning the first five points en route to a 20-8 lead in the opening game.

"(The Chargers) have a lot of heart and they're super scrappy, so we just went out there with the same mentality — have fun, enjoy the moment and play hard," Walters said. "The girls did a great job executing that. They definitely carried a lot of things over (from the match against Lee) — our flow and our energy. It's great to hit a pace and to keep that."

The Raiders kept the pedal to the metal in Game 2, using an 8-2 run to turn a slim 13-11 lead into a 21-13 blowout. Megan Bartling had three kills in the run, and Stennett added two.

Game 3 was the most competitive of the match, but the Raiders were never seriously threatened after taking a 14-8 lead on a kill by Holgen. Briar Cliff narrowed the gap to three points on three different occasions, the last at 20-17, but could never get over the hump as the Raiders went up 24-18 on another Holgen spike before finishing the match with a Bergstrom smash.

Stone feared prior to the match that with their national championship hopes foiled the Raiders might "fizzle." That didn't happen, she said, because SOU focused on a new goal.

"You could see a hunger in everyone's eyes to leave it all out on the court," she said. "The girls were bouncing."

Southern Oregon entered the 24-team event with high expectations after tying College of Idaho atop the final Cascade Conference regular season standings then sweeping the Coyotes to claim the conference tournament championship. A week later the Raiders crushed Holy Names in the first round of the national tournament to earn the program's fifth trip to the final site and first since 2004.

"I'm so happy with our season," Walters said. "The whole season leading up to this was a great experience and the girls have grown so much since the first game. It was awesome to witness and even better to be a part of."

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