Raiders hold first practice of 2014 school year

There weren't any complaints regarding the record heat or the smoky haze that's blanketing Ashland.

Apparently, the Southern Oregon University women's volleyball team was just happy to be back on the court.

Nine months after their 2013 season came to an end the Raiders kicked off the start of the 2014 fall sports season locally with a two-hour practice Friday at Ashland Middle School.

While the other local college and high school athletes who participate in a fall sport were still clinging to their last few weeks of summer — and possibly sleeping in —the SOU volleyballers took the court at 9 a.m. for a loose but spirited scrimmage.

The goal on Day 1, says SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing, is simply to have fun. The 17 Raiders — 16 roster players plus one recent addition — who gathered in the main gym spent the majority of the offseason improving their bodies and sharpening their skills. So rather than cracking open the playbook, Rohlfing on Friday let his players do what they love.

"Tomorrow's when it really starts in terms of drilling and skills, specific technical stuff," he said. "They'll get all that stuff tomorrow. Today was more, let's get out, let's play, let's have that excitement. Because the worst thing you can do I think is have them come in that first day and then just stand around and teach them a bunch of things. They're excited to play, so let's let them play."

"It's fun to finally get all of us, especially the newbies, and to play volleyball again," said senior libero Brookelynn Cole, one of the favorites to replace recent graduate and 2013 Cascade Conference libero of the year Renee Yomtob. "It's just fun playing and running and everything, all the other stuff. So we're really excited and we have a really good team, a real strong team, and a very deep team in all positions. There's no starting spots right now so everyone's fighting for their spots, which is also exciting."

And while Southern Oregon's deep roster promises plenty of position battles in the near future, Friday's practice was all about building upon the team chemistry that the Raiders say is already rock solid. That's because most of the players have been working out and playing together since a week after their 2013 season ended in the CCC semis last November.

The long offseason began in earnest in January, when each player was set up with a specialized weight-training program. After that came about two weeks worth of individual workouts by position. Then, the Raiders played an abbreviated spring schedule, taking on NCAA Division I foe Oregon State and Division II program Western Oregon.

After that, it was back to the weight room and Bob Riehm Arena for open gym volleyball. Though the summer scrimmages on Tuesday and Thursday nights are voluntary, Rohlfing said no less than 10 Raiders showed up each night, a number he was very pleased with.

"And it's on their dime," he marveled. "That's unbelievable."

It's also helpful, says senior outside hitter Paulla Pinheiro, a returning Cascade Conference all-star.

"I feel really excited about this year because this year most of us stayed during the summer and worked out," she said. "I feel like we're way better prepared for this year than we were last year. Our first practice so far came out really strong, way stronger than last year. That's pretty exciting."

"With any team that you're playing for, if you're not cohesive and you're not on the same page it's really hard to get a flow going," Cole added. "If one thing happens and we're not on the same page, everyone's kind of like, 'Uhhh, where do we go, what are we doing.' So it's really important to have good team chemistry, to know who can do what, our strengths and our weaknesses."

Cole said SOU already has that part of its game humming.

"Chemistry's never a problem for us," she said. "We all hang out during the offseason, we're all each other's best friends, so it's not a big deal. We are with each other all the time and we love that. It's not forced at all."

The Raiders open their season Aug. 21 against California State-San Marcos at the Biola Invitational in La Mirada, Calif.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or

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