Raiders pound Oregon Tech

Megan Bartling had eight kills and three solo blocks, Caryn Westrick had 17 assists and the 16th-ranked Southern Oregon women's volleyball team earned a season sweep of Oregon Tech with a breezy 25-12, 25-16, 25-18 Cascade Conference victory Wednesday at Bob Riehm Arena.

Bartling, a senior middle blocker from North Medford High, was one of four Raiders with at least five kills as Westrick and fellow setter Krista Novelli (11 assists) spread the ball around with consistently effective results.

Sarah Holgen added seven kills and five digs, Natalie Scheller had six kills and Haley Fikso had five kills for the Raiders, who committed just 10 attack errors in 86 attempts to earn their second straight-set win of the season over the Owls.

The victory allowed SOU to stay within striking distance of league-leading and sixth-ranked College of Idaho and second-place Eastern Oregon in the conference standings. College of Idaho is undefeated in league play at 11-0, while Eastern is 10-1 and Southern 10-2. The Raiders (13-4 overall), who lost to C of I and EOU during a road trip in mid-September, host both the last weekend of the regular season, Nov. 4-5.

"(Eastern Oregon) just owned us, it was like they were just one step ahead of us on everything we did," SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said of the Sept. 16 match in La Grande. "But we're totally different now. We've raised our level through everything that we've done in practice. We were one dimensional at that point and I don't think we're one dimensional anymore and that's going to make all the difference in the world when we play those teams next time."

Oregon Tech, led by Joey Parnell's seven kills and nine digs, fell to 10-9 overall and 4-8 in league play, a half-game behind sixth-place Northwest Christian.

Wednesday's match, like the previous meeting between the two teams Aug. 31 in Klamath Falls, was never in doubt, with the Raiders taking commanding leads in each set. Only once, in the third set, did Southern Oregon have to fight off an Oregon Tech rally, and the Raiders did so with gusto, scoring seven of the last eight points after the Owls had cut the Raiders' lead to 18-17.

An Oregon Tech service error by Parnell gave SOU the first point in its match-clinching run, and back-to-back kills by Scheller followed as the Raiders opened up a four-point lead. The junior outside hitter recorded another powerful smash four points later and Bartling provided the final kill off an assist by Novelli.

The match-clinching run illustrated how a midseason switch by Rohlfing has made the Raiders' attack even more potent. Scheller started the season as an outside hitter, with Liz Madden on the right side. The two traded positions about two weeks ago and SOU's offense has been humming ever since.

"We're just a totally different team than we were two months ago," Rohlfing said. "Way better."

The Raiders were hardly threatened in the first two sets, running out to leads of 14-7 and 18-9 in the opening set and 18-11 in the second.

Balance, and the Raiders' superior accuracy, was key throughout. Only one Raider (Fikso) recorded more than two kills in the first set, when SOU spiked 10 as a team. It was more of the same in the second set and again in the third, as the Raiders finished with a .291 hitting percentage — slightly higher than the .251 clip they took into the match that ranks second in the conference.

"Over the last three or four weeks, that's one thing that we've improved on," Rohlfing said. "At the beginning of the year we were Sarah Holgen and Megan Bartling, and it wasn't effective because you could shut them down and shut us down. You see it in the stats — our balance has changed, we're a better team and we're really a lot more difficult to stop."

Becky Johnstone added 14 digs and Renee Tomtob 10 for the Raiders, who also blasted six service aces.

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