Raiders return home with league title in their sights

Lynn Kennedy isn't quite sure what it will take in order for the Raiders to snare an automatic berth to nationals this weekend.

"There's a lot of different scenarios," he says.

What he does know, and what he has relayed to his Southern Oregon women's basketball team, is that the Raiders probably need to sweep their final home stand of the regular season this weekend to be in that conversation.

Plus, there's another motivation, one that could easily be overlooked.

"The thing is," Kennedy said, "we're still playing for a conference championship, and that should be our first goal anyway. We have an opportunity to do that Saturday night."

Yes, SOU's remarkable ascension from Cascade Collegiate Conference punching bag to regional powerhouse could reach a triumphant finish line of sorts this weekend. The Raiders (24-4, 15-3 CCC) host Corban (9-19, 5-13) on Friday and Concordia (15-13, 11-7) on Saturday; if they win both those games, they'll clinch the program's first conference championship since 2003 &

though it may be a shared championship. Not bad for a team that's just three seasons removed from a 4-25 campaign.

Both games are scheduled to tip-off at 5:30 p.m. at McNeal Pavilion, where the Raiders, ranked No. 22 in the latest NAIA Division II poll, are 10-0 this season.

Southern Oregon enters the weekend a half-game behind Eastern Oregon (23-4, 16-3), which has one league game left. If both teams hold serve, they will end up tied atop the league standings. A series of tie-breakers would then come into play to determine which team gets the automatic berth to the national tournament, but Kennedy says the Raiders can't worry about that.

"If you (look ahead) then you're going to run into some trouble," he said. "Right now, we're really focused on one game at a time and we know that everything else will take care of itself."

Corban is led by Jessica Steigleman, the league's top scorer (17.8 points per game), and former North Medford High standout Kailey Bostwick. SOU easily won the first meeting between the two teams, 89-65, back on Jan. 5.

Concordia is led by Danielle Clauson (13.8 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game) and sharpshooter Denise Benedict, a duo that combined to score 34 points in the Cavaliers' shocking 68-52 win over the Raiders on Jan. 4.

"They like a halfcourt game," Kennedy said of Concordia. "We've got to make sure that we get our tempo going early, establish our defense and make sure that we're executing on offense."

Even if the Raiders don't snag the league's first of two automatic berths, they could still earn a trip to nationals by either winning the CCC tournament or by gaining an at-large bid, which is unlikely.

SOU senior guard Chelsey Muri will play her final regular season game at McNeal on Saturday. The All-Star leads the Raiders in scoring (14.3 ppg), assists (84), steals (57) and minutes per game (29.3).

"(Muri) has developed into a true team leader these past three years," Kennedy said. "She is every coach's dream player because of her work ethic and intensity. She always had the skills, but she continued to improve every year and developed into one of the best all-around point guards in this region."

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.

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