The first half of the Cascade Conference schedule struck some familiar notes as Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon and College of Idaho gravitated to the top of the standings. All three teams will be on display this weekend at Lithia Motors Pavilion, and it’s no longer too soon for them to be thinking about the title.
The No. 10-ranked Raiders (17-1 overall, 10-1 CCC), No. 13 Mountaineers (14-4, 9-1) and No. 16 Yotes (12-6, 7-3) have combined to account for 14 of the last 15 CCC regular-season championships. The next one won’t be wrapped up any time soon, but the driver’s seat will be up for grabs as SOU hosts C of I at 7 p.m. tonight and EOU at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Raiders went 3-1 between NAIA poll release dates, their five-set loss at Northwest costing them one spot in Tuesday’s latest NAIA Top 25 as they went to No. 10. The Mountaineers’ win last week at C of I enabled them to jump the Yotes in the rankings, moving up four spots to No. 13 while the Yotes dropped four to No. 16. The top teams in the poll, No. 1 Park (Mo.) and No. 2 Grand View (Iowa), are the last undefeated teams standing.
On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, the Raiders executed five-set wins at EOU and C of I for their first sweep of the trip since 2005; no other CCC team had taken both ends of the trip since then, either. They got their first win at EOU since 2010 by jumping the Mountaineers in the tiebreaker, 15-7, and getting a season-high 13 kills from outside hitter Nila Lukens. The next night, they won a 15-12 tiebreaker where Makayla Hoyt totaled six of her 15 kills and three of her 12 blocks. Her block total was the highest for a Raider in a decade; she was voted the CCC defensive player of the week as a result. Taylor Ristvedt was the CCC attacker of the week, amassing 42 kills and 13 blocks on the weekend.
The regular-season champion will be awarded the CCC’s first automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament and hosting rights for the CCC tournament’s semifinal and championship rounds (Nov. 9-10). The second automatic bid will go to the CCC tournament champion — or, if the regular-season champion repeats, to the tournament runner-up. SOU will host another important match in pursuit of the title next week, starting Homecoming festivities with a tilt against rival Oregon Tech at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
- The reemergence of senior hitter Malie Rube was key to SOU’s wins last week, 3-0 against Northwest Christian and 3-2 against Corban. Rube had seven kills against the Beacons and a season-high 13 against the Warriors on just 25 attacks. She’s recorded 30 kills over her last 11 sets and is attacking at a .342 average this season compared to her .078 mark in 2017.
- The Raiders haven’t produced two hitters with at least 200 kills and attacking averages over .300 in the same season since 2007, but they could have two by the end of the weekend: Taylor Ristvedt (193 kills, .373) and Makayla Hoyt (179 kills, .430). A third, Elliott Cook (132 kills, .373), has also put herself within striking distance. In CCC play, Hoyt (.395) and Cook (.388) rank second and third in attacking efficiency.
- The Raiders, now 8-0 at Lithia Motors Pavilion, are the last CCC team with a perfect home record. They’ve won 24 of 26 sets in Ashland. The last time they defeated both C of I and EOU at home was 2014, the year of their most recent title.
- SOU’s .275 attacking average in conference matches tops the CCC leaderboard. The Raiders’ overall average of .293 is the fourth-best in the NAIA.
ABOUT COLLEGE of IDAHO
- The Yotes, who were the preseason favorite to win the CCC title, have won six of eight since their loss to SOU, dropping four-set affairs at Corban and against EOU. They enter the weekend No. 3 in the CCC in attacking (.232) and attacking against (.170), and No. 1 in kills (14.2/set).
- Senior setter Mariha Djonovic leads the CCC in assists (10.5), while hitters Ashley Pagan (3.9 kills/set) and Taylor Alexander (3.4) and the second- and sixth-most prolific hitters. The Yotes' middles, Jackie Van Vliet (.342) and Danielle Neuman (.321), are both among the leaders in efficiency.
- The Raiders are 65-33 all-time against the Yotes and have won the last three matchups, all in five sets.
ABOUT EASTERN OREGON
- Since their loss to SOU, the Mountaineers have won nine in a row and needed five sets in just one of those victories. Before Corban took last year's CCC title, they'd earned at least a share of three straight.
- In conference play, they rank first in blocks per set (2.8) for the fourth consecutive season. The result is a .091 opponents' attacking average that also tops the CCC.
- Juniors Hailee Ackerman (3.6 kills/set) and Megan Bunn (3.4) are the go-to hitters. Allyson Crisp (1.5 blocks) is one of three Mountaineers who average at least one block per set.
- SOU is 74-34 in the all-time series. Prior to this year's first meeting, EOU had won seven straight matchups.