Raiders return the favor

The Southern Oregon volleyball team knew what it felt like to have a match and the driver's seat for the Cascade Conference championship race taken from them simultaneously.

The chance to do the same thing to the College of Idaho was no gimmie, but the Raiders didn't miss. Not this time.

Four weeks after C of I erased a two-game deficit and came back to shock SOU and send it home from Caldwell, Idaho with its first league loss, the Raiders returned the favor in front of 1,000 home fans at McNeal Pavilion, stopping the Coyotes in their tracks mid-sprint towards the loop crown.

The sixth-ranked Coyotes (13-2, 9-1), winners of their previous 27 conference contests, squandered a 2-1 game advantage as the Raiders (15-2, 9-1) stormed back in dramatic fashion to win 26-24, 18-25, 16-25, 25-22, 15-13.

The win tied the teams up at the top of the standings with eight games to play. In the event that they finish with matching records, a tiebreaker will go to the team that beats the third-place squad in fewer games.

After coming out fast in the opening game, the Raiders fell flat in the next two frames.

The Coyotes broke a 9-all tie in the second game by taking seven of the next eight points and never looked back, then went on a decisive 10-1 run in the next game that was aided by four straight SOU attack errors.

"All we could do was try to put up solid blocks on them," senior Leah Bergstrom said. "They have some big, big hitters; that's why they're so good. But so do we."

With their backs against the wall, the Raiders finally found a rhythm and middle-blocker Heather Porter delivered a pair of kills, waking up a crowd that was edgy to that point and capping a game that never saw the teams separated by more than two points only twice.

"We tried to guard against it, but when you come out with that much adrenaline and energy to start the game, it's easy to come down hard," SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said. "I didn't expect it to last that long, but I think part of getting a rhythm again was just getting a couple breaks to go our way."

SOU raced out to a 9-6 lead in the fifth game, but C of I answered with three straight points to even the score again. Tied 13-13, the game swung on a controversial call that proved to be the final turn in the rollercoaster match.

Coyote junior Naomi Reimer appeared to sneak a kill past the outstretched hand of Raider Corynn Jorgensen as the Coyotes stopped to celebrate what appeared to be the point and the lead.

But the whistle never blew — though the noise in McNeal Pavillion would have drowned out the sound if it did — and Raider defender Dolores Christensen kept on playing as she hit the ball over to an empty back.

"I truly don't know if it hit the ground," Rohlfing said. "But you have to play the whistle, and we played it out. Those breaks had gone against us for half of the match, so we were due for one.

"It was just an awkward play all around, though."

After officials met to discuss the play, it was determined that Jorgensen's hand indeed slipped right under the ball, giving the point to SOU.

Porter promptly redirected Kathryn Ely's attempt to answer with a block that landed on C of I's side of the floor, sending arms into the air across the gym.

"The crowd was huge tonight," Rohlfing said. "We just needed to give them something to cheer about, but they carried us through that fifth game."

The Raiders were led by three hitters with double-digit kill totals — Chelsea Hartman (12), Leanne Stennett (11) and Bergstrom (10). Angela Speiker had 25 assists.

The loss was the first CCC setback for the Coyotes since last year in Ashland. The Coyotes haven't won at McNeal since 2006.

Following last season's win in Ashland, though, the Raiders came out and were swept by Eastern Oregon — Saturday's opponent — in what proved to be the difference between a CCC championship and a second-place finish.

The Raiders, No. 16 in this week's NAIA poll, will need to avoid that fate to keep pace tonight.

"We won't let down," Bergstrom said. "I know we'll come out fired up. We have no choice."

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