Raiders have business to take care of

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University volleyball team's recent surge means one thing for sure: The Raiders have earned the right to a meaningful final push.

With three weekends left in the regular season, that push begins Friday and Saturday for the Raiders (12-7 overall, 9-3 Cascade Conference) with matches at the Northwest Eagles (7-15, 3-9) and the Evergreen Geoducks (3-14, 2-10) in Washington. Both are scheduled for 7 p.m. starts.

The Raiders kicked off their current five-match winning streak with home sweeps of the Eagles and Geoducks and ended their homestand having claimed 15 of the 16 sets played. Northwest has dropped 20 straight against SOU and Evergreen 24 of 25.

"It's a weird part of the schedule where it hasn't been long since these teams saw us, they're going to be prepared for what we do and they're both capable of beating us in different ways," Raiders head coach Josh Rohlfing said.

SOU has another reason not to relax because of what's going on elsewhere in the conference. Second-place Concordia (11-2) will be visiting first-place Eastern Oregon (11-1) and third-place College of Idaho (10-2) with a chance to shake up the standings. Next week Eastern and College of Idaho will be in Ashland, and the week after the Raiders will be at Concordia.

In other words, there will be several opportunities for the Raiders to climb the ladder but minimal margin for error.

"The top group (in the conference) is just a gauntlet right now," Rohlfing said. "I don't remember the last time it was this tough up there. It's incredible how close it is."

Paulla Pinheiro continued to elevate Southern Oregon's play last week with 12 kills in a sweep of Northwest Christian and eight service aces — one shy of the school record — in just three sets against Corban. The versatile junior is now 11th in the league in attacking average (.266), 12th in kills per set (2.74) first in aces (.60) and second on the team in digs (2.49).

Another big weekend for freshman setter Lauren McGowne pushed her to second in the league in assists at 11.02 per set, freshman hitter Emma Gasman maintained the CCC's top attacking average of .413 and Nikki Keller is second at .405. Gasman is posting 2.73 kills per set while Mona Goudarzian's 3.56 kills average tops the team and is third in the conference.

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