SIOUX CITY, Iowa — An extended stay at the NAIA Volleyball Championships is almost assuredly in the works for Southern Oregon University after Wednesday’s 25-16, 25-19, 28-26 win over Saint Xavier (Ill.) at the Tyson Events Center, which made the Raiders the only unbeaten team left in Pool G.
Another ultra-efficient offensive display, which yielded a .364 attacking average, and steady all-around defense took the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference champion Cougars (28-11) out of contention a day after they lost in four sets to Viterbo (Wis.).
The No. 10-ranked Raiders (28-3) improved to 2-0 in the pool — winning their first two matches at the final site for the second time in team history — while matching their highest win total in 25 years. In the pool’s other matchup, Jamestown (N.D.) upset No. 7 Viterbo in straight sets, making both teams 1-1.
The Raiders and Viterbo will match up today, the final day of pool play, at 2 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
SOU would take the top seed out of the group and into the 16-team elimination bracket if it defeats Viterbo, but Viterbo would take the top seed and SOU the No. 2 seed with a Raider loss and a Saint Xavier (Ill.) win against Jamestown. Should Jamestown and Viterbo both win to force a three-way tie in the pool, the top seed would to the team with the best set win percentage against the other tied squads, and the second spot in the elimination bracket would be settled by a tiebreaker set.
SOU can keep things simple, however, with another performance like the first two.
Junior right-side hitter Taylor Ristvedt led the way for the second day in a row with 13 kills on 24 swings, sophomore middle Makayla Hoyt had 10 kills on 16 attacks with one error, and junior outside Nila Lukens poured in nine kills compared to one error.
The Raiders were again well above their season attacking average (.286). Their 23 attacking errors through the first two matches of the tourney mark their lowest combined total on a back-to-back since August.
“We had some shaky moments in the final set, but when it was time we had the right people step up throughout the entire match,” SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said. “As a whole, our serve-receive was stellar and when that’s going right we’re going to give ourselves a pretty good chance.”
A day after committing one service-reception error, the Raiders had two. They’ve amassed just six in four postseason matches; they had 19 in their last three outings of the regular season.
Kiley Barcroft and Emma Ryan controlled nine digs apiece, Natalie James had six and Sara Fanger five. Ryan recorded three of the team’s seven service aces.
James also had 22 assists and Hannah Bogatin had 17. With them at the controls, SOU was victimized by only two blocks.
The Raiders had five blocks on the other side — Hoyt and Maddie Pernich were in on three each — but their presence at the net was more valuable than the numbers showed, according to Rohlfing. They kept the Cougars at a .178 average, making them the 21st SOU opponent to dip below .200 this season.
“We started out a little slow blocking, and something we had a difficult time with earlier in the year was making adjustments in that regard during the match,” Rohlfing said. “We’ve made huge strides that was and it showed today with how our positioning improved as we went on.”
The Raiders didn’t trail after 3-2 in the opening set or at all in the second. After squandering a 23-18 lead in the third, they had to fight off match point at 26-25 and tied it up on a Ristvedt kill. Fanger took back the lead with an ace, and another Ristvedt attack gave SOU its 21st sweep.
Ristvedt had six kills on as many swings in the first set and tacked on five more in the third. For Hoyt, it was her 11th consecutive match with three attacking errors or fewer and the sixth time she’s gone over a .500 average with at least 10 kills.