Raiders scare top-ranked Lee, lose in 5

Southern Oregon's best performance of the season wasn't quite good enough to beat the top team in the land.

The 14th-ranked Raiders pushed No. 1-ranked and undefeated Lee University to the brink before the Flames rallied back from a two-games-to-none deficit for a 20-25, 19-25, 25-22, 25-16, 15-13 victory Wednesday in the second day of pool play at the NAIA National Volleyball Championships in Sioux City, Iowa.

The setback dashed the Raiders' hopes of becoming the first team in SOU history to qualify for the final 12-team single-elimination bracket. Instead, they'll face Briar Cliff today for third place in Pool A.

"In the beginning, there were definitely tears," SOU assistant coach Jessica Walters said of her team's reaction. "It's definitely bittersweet when you're that close to beating the No. 1 team in the nation. But we talked about how far they've come "… and if we were going to go out, this is how we wanted to go out, playing our best."

Walters is serving as SOU's head coach as Josh Rohlfing recovers from an undisclosed medical condition.

Lee (37-0, 2-0 pool play), which was pushed to five games for just the fourth time this season, clinched a spot in the final 12 and will face Embry-Riddle today for the pool's top seed.

Sarah Holgen led the Raiders with 17 kills, 12 digs and six blocks. Megan Bartling finished with 16 kills and six blocks and Lindsey Stone had 49 assists.

Arlene Ferreira was a one-woman wrecking crew for Lee, finishing with 24 kills, 23 digs and four blocks. Kayla Carlisle added 13 kills and Valquiria Caboclo finished with 12 kills, including the one that ended the match, and eight blocks.

After storming back to force a decisive fifth game the Flames' momentum carried over. They took leads of 4-1 and 6-3 in Game 5 before the Raiders battled back for a 7-7 tie on a service ace by Leanne Stennett.

The Flames scored the next five points to take what looked like an insurmountable 12-7 lead, but the Raiders answered with a 5-0 run of their own capped by back-to-back kills by Holgen to force the last tie of the match.

A block of Holgen gave Lee the lead for good at 13-12. At 14-12, Holgen delivered her final putaway to keep the Raiders' hopes alive, but Lee finally thwarted the upset bid on the next point, a spike by Caboclo.

After the loss, Walters said, the Raiders were showered with congratulations from both fans and players who were on hand to watch the marathon match.

"I am so proud of the girls," Walters said. "I have never seen them step up and play with such confidence and poise. It was an awesome match.

"We finally hit our peak, and it was great."

Southern Oregon started the match on fire.

After the two teams battled to a 15-all tie in the first game, the Raiders won five straight points to take a 20-15 lead, finishing the rally with a Leah Bergstrom and Bartling assisted block. A pair of Bartling kills helped push the lead to 23-19 and after a bad set and a Holgen kill the Raiders became the first team to take a game off Lee in more than a month.

Southern Oregon kept the pressure on the tournament favorites in the second game, jumping out a 10-3 lead. Lee cut the deficit to 14-12 before the Raiders went on a 9-2 run highlighted by kills by Bergstrom, Bartling, Stone and Holgen for a 23-14 lead. A service error by Lee and a Holgen kill gave the Raiders the victory and put Lee on the ropes.

"It was funny, it was just super calm," Walters said of the Raiders' demeanor between games two and three. "We didn't say much. I just wanted them to keep doing what they were doing."

The Flames didn't waste any time in the third game, jumping out to a 6-1 lead before SOU crawled back to within 13-12. An ace by Holgen kept the Raiders close at 16-15 and another Lee error got the Raiders within one at 20-19.

Bartling came up with another big kill to trim the advantage to 22-21, but a service error gave the ball back to Lee and the Flames closed out the game and had all the momentum.

Lee cruised in the fourth set, hitting .312 as a team and holding the Raiders to a .081 hitting percentage to force the fifth game.

Stennett finished with 18 digs and nine kills for the Raiders, while Johnstone had 18 digs and Natalie Scheller 11. Lauren Swetland finished with seven blocks.

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