The final rounds of the Cascade Conference Championships presented by U.S. Bank return to Ashland this week for the first time since 2010, hosted by regular-season co-champion Southern Oregon University in its first season at Lithia Motors Pavilion.
Tonight’s semifinal round will start with the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, 12th-ranked Eastern Oregon (22-6) and 16th-ranked College of Idaho (22-7), at 3:30 p.m. The 7 p.m. match will feature top-seeded and 10th-ranked SOU (24-3) against 22nd-ranked and fourth-seeded Corban (20-10), and the winners will play the championship match at 7 p.m. Saturday.
What’s at Stake
Southern Oregon locked up the CCC’s first automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament, taking the tiebreaker from regular-season co-champ Eastern Oregon by winning both head-to-head matchups. The second automatic bid will be awarded to the tournament champion — or, if SOU wins it, to the other championship finalist.
The 44-team NAIA National Tournament will comprise 34 automatic bids, nine at-large bids and one host bid. The field will be announced next week, but the CCC’s remaining four teams are in solid position to qualify based on their current rankings. The top-19 qualifiers, plus the host, will go directly to the final site in Sioux City, Iowa, where pool play will begin Nov. 27. The other 24 teams will have to go through the NAIA Opening Round, which takes place Nov. 17 at 12 campus site across the country.
First Round Review
While SOU and EOU earned byes to the semifinal round, College of Idaho and Corban won their first-round matches Tuesday in straight sets. The Yotes defeated Evergreen by scores of 25-15, 25-20 and 25-22 behind 16 kills from Taylor Alexander and 10 from Ashley Pagan. The Warriors eliminated Northwest, 25-21, 25-17, 25-16, with 10 service aces and Adriana Aguayo’s match-high 13 kills.
The last time SOU hosted, in 2010, it swept Northwest and College of Idaho for the title. In 2005, the Yotes celebrated a championship in Ashland. The Raiders were eliminated in the quarterfinals the last two years and appeared in the championship match most recently in 2011.
College of Idaho has appeared in 11 of the last 12 championships matches and won eight of them. Since 1997, no non-hosts except the Yotes have won the tournament.
Corban captured its first title since 1997 last year, defeating Northwest and College of Idaho in five sets on back-to-back nights. The Warriors are back despite losing nine seniors from that squad.
EOU won its first title in 2016 as the host squad. From 2003-15, the only champions were C of I and SOU.
The regular season has resulted in co-titles six times in the last 15 years. SOU has been involved in all of them.
The Raiders finished with a .280 attacking average in conference play, the highest for a CCC team since 2007. They feature three individuals with more than 200 kills and attacking averages over .300: Elliott Cook (201, .379), Makayla Hoyt (270, .411) and Taylor Ristvedt (308, .354). Before this year, they hadn’t produced two such players on the same team since 2007.
The semifinalists were the top-four teams in terms of opponents’ hitting average in CCC action: EOU (.114) ranked first, Corban (.161) second, C of I (.178) third and SOU (.185) fourth. EOU has led the CCC in blocks in four consecutive seasons and in opponents’ hitting three of the last four.
C of I featured the third- and sixth-most prolific players in terms of kills per set during the regular season - Ashley Pagan (3.8) and Taylor Alexander (3.4). They helped the Yotes become the only team to win at SOU this season, combining for 33 kills in a four-set win on Oct. 5.
These four teams will replay a hectic night that took place in the final weekend of the regular season. Last Friday, Corban swept SOU in Salem and gave EOU the chance to win the title outright. But the Mountaineers lost a 2-0 sets lead at home against C of I and dropped the tiebreaker, 16-14, allowing SOU to earn a share of the title with a win at Northwest Christian the next day.
All four 2017 CCC semifinalists reached the national tournament final site. Corban and C of I went the furthest, advancing to the national quarterfinals.