The way things started for the Southern Oregon University volleyball team seemed like a reminder of why the Raiders hadn't lost a home match for three months.
After the first game ended, though, the rest of the match was a reminder of how deceptive a little momentum can look — even in the national tournament.
Momentum and adrenaline had the Raiders looking like a team ready to make a run through the tournament, but eventually betrayed the 13th-ranked squad as Lewis-Clark State of Idaho pulled off a five-game road upset to steal the opening round match of the NAIA National Championship on Saturday at McNeal Pavilion.
The Raiders (24-4) looked unbeatable with an 18-2 start in game one, but things leveled out quickly in a 15-25, 25-14, 30-32, 25-13, 16-14 Lewis-Clark win.
"You can't play with adrenaline the whole match," SOU coach Josh Rohlfing said. "When you have a huge adrenaline spike, then you're going to have a big dip, too, and I think that's what happened to us. We couldn't maintain emotionally after that first set, because we just got too high."
Here's an idea of how quickly things leveled out for the Raiders: At the end of the first set, SOU had a .346 attack percentage to Lewis-Clark's .074. But by the end of the second game, Lewis-Clark's attack percentage was already 50 points higher than the Raiders'.
In the second set, Lewis-Clark's Katie Hinrichs had three service aces in a stretch of five straight points to push the Warriors out to an 11-3 lead and the Raiders never got much closer.
Game three was the highlight of the match, and the Raiders seemed to regain the momentum as they fought back from an 21-24 deficit. Leanne Stennett and Heather Porter teamed up twice for Raider blocks that gave SOU a 25-24 lead, but the teams tied six more times on their way to a 30-30 deadlock.
The Raiders took the last three points of the game on a kill and a block from junior Leah Bergstrom and another kill from Stennett to seal things for a 2-1 edge heading into game four.
But the Warriors were resilient — if not completely dominant — again, getting off to a 9-4 start before running away with the fourth game to send the match to a fifth and deciding game.
Dolores Christensen's ace that grazed the very back of the baseline put SOU up 6-3, and Bergstrom's kill down the sideline later made it 10-8. The teams fought to ties of 12-12, 13-13 and 14-14 as Raider libero Becky Johnstone's kill evened the score for the last time, but Lewis-Clark took the lead back on a Stennett service error.
With their season down to a single point, Demi Dlouhy finished the Raiders with a kill that split the middle of the floor.
"We got absolutely annihilated in two of those games," Rohlfing said. "That's what made this so tough — because they kept fighting back and so did we. But when you get to this point in the season, both teams have won their share of matches and have the confidence to respond."
Bergstrom and junior middle Heather Porter led the Raiders with 13 kills apiece, and Porter had a match-best .375 hitting percentage and seven assisted blocks.
Johnstone, a sophomore, had a match-high 24 digs, while freshman Angela Spieker led the Raiders with 32 assists.
For Lewis-Clark (24-7), Anile Clemente had 12 kills and Dlouhy chipped in 10 kills.
"It's so cliché, but we left it all out there," Rohlfing said. "We didn't necessarily play with balance, but it was an unbelievable effort and they all played with guts."
Josh McDermott is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.