Raiders advance to CCC semis

Dissecting her team's strategy against Northwest Christian, Southern Oregon libero Renee Yomtob struggled to lift her raspy voice above a whisper.

Was it fatigue from calling out plays? An emotional halftime speech? A cold, perhaps?

"No," she said with a shrug. "I just yell a lot."

Better take a lozenge, Renee, because the Raiders will need that voice, not to mention all those digs, this weekend when they fight for a trip to the NAIA National Championships.

Yomtob had 23 digs and Nikki Keller chipped in 10 kills, including the final two, as Southern Oregon trounced Northwest Christian in straight sets, 25-15, 25-20, 25-23, in the Cascade Collegiate Conference quarterfinals Tuesday at Bob Riehm Arena.

The win, SOU's 10th in its last 12 matches, advances the Raiders (17-9) to the CCC semifinals in Caldwell, Idaho, where they will face the tournament's top seed and the league's regular-season champion College of Idaho (16-9) on Friday. On the other side of the bracket, second-seeded (and 10th-ranked) Eastern Oregon (25-5) will face third-seeded Concordia (22-7), which beat Oregon Tech on Tuesday in another quarterfinal match.

The Raiders split the season series against the Beacons, but Tuesday's clash looked a lot like the second meeting between the two programs, when SOU avenged its earlier straight-set loss with a sweep of its own.

It was more of the same in the do-or-die rubber match. The Raiders' back row defense fended off the Beacons' power serving game, their hitters — particularly Keller and Emma Gasman — connected at a high-percentage clip and SOU stood tall against Northwest Christian's frantic final push to avoid any chance of a letdown.

Southern Oregon head coach Josh Rohlfing said it came down to the Raiders' ability to withstand the Beacons' aggressive play from behind the service stripe. In the end, the Beacons may have been too aggressive — their one ace didn't come close to atoning for 11 service errors.

"We couldn't pass the first ball early in the season to get them to where we put pressure on their second serve," Rohlfing said. "Tonight you saw how many they missed. Once we finally passed perfect on our first receive, then their second one they would miss a lot. "¦I think we've come a long way."

The Raiders had to earn it down the stretch, especially after the Beacons erased a 21-19 deficit in the third set to take their first lead since 2-1, 23-22, on an attack error by junior outside hitter Paulla Pinheiro.

Going without a timeout, the Raiders knotted the set moments later on Pinheiro's hard smash through a wall of NWC blockers, then reclaimed the lead when Liz Madden powered another spike into the ground.

The Raiders didn't waste their first match point, clinching the trip to the semis on Keller's spike into 6-foot-2 middle blocker Chandler Gabrio.

Freshman setter Lauren McGowne dished out the final two assists to finish the match with 37.

Mona Goudarzian added eight kills, Madden seven and Pinheiro six to go with seven digs for the Raiders, whose .243 kill percentage easily outpaced the Beacons' .193 clip.

"I felt like we did a great job managing their attack," Rohlfing said, "and really forcing them into tipping a lot and pushing a lot. The last three points I think they tipped every swing."

For Northwest Christian, Maren Mansfield had a team-high 10 kills on 24 swings, Dana McGowan led the back row with 22 digs and setter Cori Wallace had 35 assists.

Now the Raiders move on to face a College of Idaho team that finished 16-2 in league play to earn the top seed. One of those losses came at the hands of SOU on Sept. 27, but the Coyotes avenged that loss with a four-set win in Ashland less than two weeks ago.

"We're just so excited," Yomtob said. "We feel good going into it, but like (Rohlfing) said last week, every team we play from yesterday on out, they're good teams. So that's the exciting part. We want to play these tough teams and obviously we're hopeful and we're going to try our hardest. One game at a time, whoever we have."

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