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After long break, SOU ready to roll at nationals

The Southern Oregon University volleyball team has had to exude quite a bit of patience when it comes to waiting for their return trip to the NAIA National Championship.

That’s just what happens when you have 2 1/2 weeks between games.

The No.10-ranked and second-seeded Raiders have to wait no longer, though. Southern Oregon opens up pool play at the national tournament’s final site in Sioux City, Iowa, this afternoon against No. 24 Jamestown, the first of three games in three days for each participant in the 32-team field.

SOU (26-3) will then face Saint Xavier (22-8) on Wednesday and close out pool play against the top-seeded team in the group, Viterbo (29-6).

“It’s the hurry-up-and-wait mentality,” SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said prior to his team departing for Iowa. “It just feels like we had the excitement of the (Cascade Conference Tournament) championship and all this fire and intensity for a week-and-a-half and then you have to cool it for a little bit and maintain that edge. It feels like it’s been a real long time. But, I think we’re ready, I think we’re ready.”

By the time today’s match begins, it will have been 17 days since the Raiders last played on Nov. 10 as they captured the CCC tournament title at Lithia Motors Pavilion with a four-set win over Eastern Oregon. SOU then received a bye through the NAIA Opening Round and a ticket straight to the final site in Iowa.

In between then and now, it’s been a lot of waiting.

But also a plan to ramp things back up to where the Raiders were when the conference tournament came rolling through their new digs.

“That first week off was, for me, about how we need to get reps, we need to get contacts on the ball, but we don’t need to be crazy, we don’t need to be high-strung or be anything that we haven’t been. I felt like we did a good job of that,” Rohlfing said. “This past week, the intensity level has gone up, we’re starting to ramp again up toward Tuesday. Finally getting our pool draw, we know where our level needs to be and what we need to be focused on and where we need to direct that intensity, that focus, all of that. It’s been nice this week having a face that we can prepare for rather open-ended preparedness.”

Rohlfing and crew tried to make things as game-like as possible over the last week since they learned their three opponents in Pool G.

It was all with the goal of preventing the two-plus weeks without a game from letting a true amount of rust set in.

“We’ve had a few practices where we wear jerseys and Josh has a whistle so it’s more official and we have more of a competitive mindset to play one another,” SOU sophomore middle blocker Makayla Hoyt said. “But, I think just keeping our energy high and having high intensity and being competitive throughout our practices is getting us ready for the tournament and our next game.”

After two-plus weeks, that wait for the next game is officially over.

“We’re so excited,” Hoyt said, “and just to get the opportunity to play other teams outside of our conference, see more challenges outside of our conference and see what our team can do toward a different opponent and those we’ve seen throughout the season.”

The 32-team field will be cut in half come the end of pool play with the top two teams in each group advancing to the single-elimination rounds.

Like the World Cup, one loss might not kill your hopes of advancing.

But Rohlfing is also well aware of the fact that the first match can set the tone for the Raiders’ four-team pool.

“I think that first match against Jamestown is going to set the pool,” the Raiders’ veteran head coach said. “Jamestown is really good, they come out of the GPAC (Great Plains Athletic Conference) and the GPAC is one of, if not the best conferences in the nation. You see Jamestown and they’re ranked 24th, but it’s not really indicative of what that team is capable of doing. I’m not giving coach-speak — it’s real and they’re a legitimate contender that can play and I think if they were in our conference they would be competing just like College of Idaho, us, Eastern Oregon, all of those teams.

“That’s going to be a tough draw to start with, but we wholeheartedly believe we can beat every team in the tournament, so it’s just a matter of how we play.”

The draw may be tough, but the Raiders also liked where they were at entering their lengthy spell in between games.

And for a season that had so much optimism and potential attached to it, the Raiders’ chance to make it just that much better is about to begin.

“It’s just so incredible,” Hoyt said. “I just knew from the beginning that we had something special and just the team dynamic and how hard we’ve all worked throughout the season, it’s just so incredible to see it pay off. I’m so ready and I know our whole team is ready.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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