Raiders roll over Owls

Another night, and the 12th-ranked Southern Oregon volleyball team is making this Cascade Conference thing look easy as ever.

They hit at a .343 clip, limited Oregon Tech to .063 and turned the rivalry match into a certified yawner and leave the gym with a three-game sweep and a 13-1 record in league play.

Pretty good, right? Almost good enough to erase the memories — or, nightmares — of a preseason clouded by the fact that the Raiders would be without their all-American setter, Lindsey Stone (medical redshirt), and a group of established hitters were to be left with a group of unseasoned setters that, up until the season, figured to be cheering on Stone from the sidelines and not much else.

To the relief of Raider coach Josh Rohlfing, freshmen Angela Spieker and Caryn Westrick have answered the call. A two-piece platoon at the setter position, the pair may not be All-American caliber, but have done more than any Raider could have predicted a couple months ago.

"I wouldn't say we didn't skip a beat at the beginning, but these freshman have been just awesome," Rohlfing said. "Their temperament, the way they've handled the team, the way they've allowed themselves to be coached and critiqued has been very impressive.

"As they've grown, the team has grown."

Spieker, who redshirted last season, ranks fifth in the CCC in assists per game, the true freshman Westrick is 10th, and collectively they're a big part of the reason that SOU features five of the top 10 hitters in the league percentage-wise, and are again in the championship hunt.

They combined for 44 assists on Friday — Spieker checked in with 26 and Westrick with 18 — and helped five Raiders go for seven kills or more in the 25-10, 25-14, 25-20 win.

In comparison, Oregon Tech (3-11, 4-17) totaled 21 assists and only one Owl tallied more than three kills.

"What the situation with losing Lindsey did was force me to play two setters, and consequently we've had more hitters out there," Rohlfing said. "When (Stone) was in the front row, we'd only have two hitters out there, but now we always have three and it's allowed us to have a more balanced attack."

The win was the 10th straight for the Raiders (19-2 overall), keeping them in a first-place deadlock with College of Idaho after defeating the 'Yotes in Ashland two weeks ago.

Junior Leah Bergstrom led SOU with 12 kills, while Sarah Holgen, the reigning CCC Hitter of the Week, stayed hot with 10 kills and seven digs and paced the team with a .444 attacking percentage.

Holgen, a product of Ashland High, had only reached the 10-kill mark twice this year until doing it in three consecutive matches through Friday.

"I think as the season progresses I've learned more and adapted more to the style that we're playing," said Holgen, a sophomore. "This is a much different team than we had last year, and it took me a while to figure out what works and what doesn't but I've tried to stay aggressive."

Added Rohlfing, "(Holgen) has just been great for us. She has the ability to be a takeover player all the time, and lately she's had some good things happen and it's just snowballed for her. When she's hot, she's going to stay hot."

Sophomore libero Becky Johnstone led the match with 19 digs, while Leanne Stennett and Chelsea Hartman both turned in eight kills.

Junior Megan Christensen led OIT with 11 kills.

SOU will play its final home matches next weekend before rounding out the regular season schedule in Washington. With little margin for error, none of their opponents have records over .500 in loop action.

"We want to win in three (games) the rest of the season, and hopefully with that we'll keep playing with consistency," Holgen said. "There are still some things we're trying to mash out, but we'll just try to get better at something new every day and hopefully be at our best for the tournament."

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