Raiders look for successful start to league play

ASHLAND — According to the preseason coaches' poll, today's Cascade Conference opener between Southern Oregon and Oregon Tech should be a real yawner.

The Raiders, after all, entered the season ranked No. 14 nationally and were rated second in the conference, while unranked Oregon Tech was picked to finish seventh in the 10-team league.

But the Owls shrugged off the doubters while stunning No. 1 Fresno Pacific a day after Southern Oregon did the same in the Paul Elliott Invitational two weeks ago and enter tonight's showdown in Klamath Falls with a 5-1 record.

It's early, but count SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing as an OIT believer. His Raiders (3-2) have some impressive wins of their own — besides Fresno, SOU beat seventh-ranked Lewis-Clark State last week — but Rohlfing expects the Owls to provide a serious test.

"With OIT, you don't have to look too far to see what it's going to take for us to get pumped up," he said. "They beat Fresno, and they are a completely different team than what we've seen. They are much better, and we know we've got our work cut out for us going over there."

The match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Danny Miles Court.

The Raiders have battled with inconsistency in the early going. They opened the season by shocking the four-time defending NAIA champion Sunbirds, then followed with consecutive losses on the first day of the Holiday Inn Summer Slam. The roller coaster ride continued Saturday with SOU's dramatic comeback victory over Lewis-Clark State — the Raiders overcame an 11-5 deficit and two match points in Game 5 — and straight-game win over Westmont.

Rohlfing attributed the Raiders' lackluster start at the Summer Slam to a "funky atmosphere" and SOU's serve receive, which he said is a work in progress.

"There were two courts side by side separated by a screen," Rohlfing said of the setup at the Biola University tournament. "It was 100 degrees and really humid, so we had to play slow and that was a little different for us. We played teams that are pretty good (Friday against Vanguard and California State University-San Marcos), but they were two teams that we felt like we should have beat."

The setbacks inspired a team meeting that help put the Raiders back on track.

"We had a good talk with the setters, and we all just came to some conclusions on what we had to do to be successful," Rohlfing said.

One strategy that's been a huge success so far has been SOU's ability to set up outside hitter Sarah Holgen. The 5-foot-10 senior with a high jumper's vertical leap has been phenomenal, leading the conference in both kills (90) and kills per game (4.29) by a wide margin with a solid .296 hitting percentage.

The Ashland High graduate has been at her best against top competition, too, compiling 16 kills and 14 digs against Fresno, and 15 kills and 15 digs against Lewis-Clark State.

Rohlfing credits Holgen's commitment to an offseason training regimen that has improved her athleticism and increased her stamina.

"It's just impressive to watch her right now," Rohlfing said of Holgen, who's earned the league's first two hitter-of-the-week awards. "We had two matches that went five sets (at the Summer Slam) and she wasn't even breathing heavy in the fourth match that we played in that fifth set. She's just a different physical person right now and that's contributing greatly to what she's doing."

Oregon Tech enters tonight's match ranked third in the conference in hitting percentage (.217), fifth in blocks (28.5) and first in service aces per game (1.84). The Owls swept Simpson on Tuesday, led by Tessa Houck's nine kills.

One key matchup, says Rohlfing, will be Oregon Tech's solid service game — Owls' outside hitter Joey Parnell, a jump-server, leads the league in aces — versus Southern Oregon's evolving serve-receive.

"(Parnell's) a jump-serving machine," Rohlfing said.

Share This Story