Southern Oregon University's new home court has officially been broken in with a championship celebration after a performance worthy of the occasion on Saturday night.
In a matchup of the Cascade Conference's regular-season co-champions, 10th-ranked SOU had the upper hand against No. 12 Eastern Oregon in the title match of the CCC Championships presented by U.S. Bank and doubled up its hardware. The Raiders' 25-23, 21-25, 25-22, 25-20 triumph at Lithia Motors Pavilion gave them their first tournament title since 2010 in a grind-it-out battle that yielded 48 tied scores.
SOU again had too many weapons in its third defeat of EOU this season, producing four hitters with double-figure kills: CCC Player of the Year Taylor Ristvedt (16), Malie Rube (12), Elliott Cook (11) and Dani Johnson (10).
In front of a partisan crowd of more than 1,000, the Raiders improved to 26-3 and all but ensured they'll go straight to the NAIA National Tournament final site — Sioux City, Iowa, which will await their arrival for pool play starting Nov. 27.
EOU — which secured the CCC's second automatic bid to the national tournament with Friday's sweep of College of Idaho — dropped to 23-7 but also figures to be in strong enough position to avoid next Saturday's NAIA Opening Round. The field will be announced Monday.
Megan Bunn recorded 15 kills and 15 digs for the Mountaineers. They combined for 13 blocks, led by seven apiece for Taylor Tibbetts and Allyson Crisp, but were unable to gather enough momentum to tip the scales. SOU had sideout percentages of 70 in the first set, 73 in the third and 60 in the fourth. After their second-set win, the Mountaineers strung together three consecutive points just once.
"It felt like the difference was that we just leveled out," SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said. "We started a little shaky with our ball control and communication, but once everyone started to trust and a little bit the match flipped. Our front row had such a greater presence as the match progressed; it may not have gotten a bunch of countable blocks but definitely chanced some attacks and wore them down a bit."
Hoyt had a team-high four blocks for the Raiders while Emma Ryan (18 digs), Sara Fanger (13) and Kiley Barcroft (11) patrolled the back row. Hannah Bogatin's 31 assists and Natalie James' 28 helped them hit .225.
After Johnson, the Raiders' starting outside hitter, went down with an injury in the second set, they also got boosts from Rube reserve Nila Lukens. Lukens hammered a kill to clinch the third set and finished with seven.
Tied at 14-14 in the fourth, a 5-0 spurt that Ristvedt keyed with three kills put the Mountaineers away.
The Raiders had been eliminated in the quarterfinals the previous two seasons and made their last title-match appearance in 2011. Their 26 wins now are tied for the team's most since 2004.
"It's been awesome to watch this group evolve over the year," Rohlfing said. "The confidence that had to be built to get to this point and their faith in what we were asking them to do doesn't feel like it's wavered. Because of that, they've bonded together and earned this championship. You can't ask for more as a coach."