LA GRANDE — Given the four other top-25 teams in the field, Southern Oregon University cross country coach Grier Gatlin believed a 10th consecutive Cascade Conference men's title would be the toughest yet to nail down.
His team proved him wrong Saturday afternoon in the CCC Championships at Lane Farms. The second-ranked Raiders were untouchable again, accumulating just 42 points to second-place and fourth-ranked College of Idaho's 72 in the three-loop, 8,000-meter race.
Junior Noah Oberriter's third-place finish led the way in 25 minutes 33.7 seconds, and senior Connor Cushman was right behind him in fourth place at 25:35.6. Joining them as All-CCC performers were eighth-place Kevin Poteracke (25:49.5) and 10th-place Ray Schireman (25:56.8), both seniors. The Raiders' final scorer, senior Aidan Paulk, was 17th in 26:18.7.
"I thought we were really patient," Gatlin said. "The course had some pretty soft footing and we thought if you went out too hard, you were going to get a little tired. So we were probably way back after the first loop but no one panicked, and when you have all those seniors who trust their plan, it really helps. They ran a great race."
Schireman became a four-time all-conference (top-12) runner, Cushman earned the award for the third time and Oberriter repeated after placing fifth a year ago.
C of I's fourth and fifth finishers placed 19th and 22nd, but no one else had a fifth scorer better than 29th. Eighth-ranked Eastern Oregon was third with 80 points, 17th-ranked Northwest Christian was fourth with 111 and 24th-ranked Oregon Tech was next with 112.
EOU's Nic Maszk defended his individual title in 25:23.8.
The Raiders put four more among the top 30: 18th-place Caleb Diaz (26:20.9), 25th-place Brandon Kelsey (26:40.4), 27th-place Kevin Van Dyke (26:41.3) and 30th-place Ben Stevens (26:46.1). They did it without one of their top runners, Ryan Alexander, who is expected to return for the national meet.
The average time for an SOU scorer was 19 seconds better than C of I's average. The Raiders still haven't won a title by fewer than 19 points.
Next, they'll turn their attention to defending the national title. The NAIA Championships are slated for Nov. 18 in Vancouver, Wash.
Women's Cross Country
CCC CHAMPIONSHIPS: At La Grande, as she is wont to do, Jessa Perkinson made more Southern Oregon University history at the Cascade Conference Championships.
Perkinson, the nine-time senior All-American from Roseburg, became the first Raider to ever win an individual CCC women's cross country title and made it look easy. On the 5,000-meter Lanes Farm course, she led 10th-ranked SOU to third place, just one point out of second, at the most loaded conference meet in the NAIA.
After coming in as the runner-up last year, Perkinson cleared the field by nearly 18 ticks — completing two loops in 17 minutes 47.8 seconds. Jenna Storms, a junior transfer making her first appearance at the meet, earned All-CCC (top-12) accolades, too, by placing eighth in 18:50.5, and SOU's next three scorers were each among the top-25 finishers.
Running with an under-the-weather fifth runner and without their All-American No. 2, the Raiders notched their best team finish since 2014. Seventh-ranked Oregon Tech won its first-ever title with 53 points, fifth-ranked College of Idaho took second with 68 to SOU's 69, and 19th-ranked Corban was fourth with 98.
Junior Bree Weber placed 16th for the Raiders in 19:16.9, freshman Shayla Potratz was 19th in 19:23.2 and freshman Jamie Chelberg rounded out their scoring with a 25th-place finish in 19:51.9.
In five races this season, Perkinson has been the top collegiate finisher four times. She's attained all-conference status three years in a row at the meet since placing 19th as a freshman in 2014.
She'll eye a third cross country All-America plaque on Nov. 18 at the NAIA Championships after setting a new SOU standard with a third-place showing at last year's national meet. Thanks to their performance Saturday, the Raiders are a lock to receive an at-large team bid, too.
Allex Bachtell (20:26.8) and Kim Nava (20:36.4) also settled into the upper-half of the field at 33rd and 36th, respectively, and Sydney Nunamaker (21:54.8) was 60th.
SOUTHERN OREGON 1, NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN 0: At Springfield, Southern Oregon's defense has gotten no less impenetrable with the start of postseason play. And by eliminating Northwest Christian in Saturday's semifinal round of the Cascade Conference Championships, the Raiders earned a shot at righting their only regular-season wrong.
Mitchell Pinney scored the lone goal in the 66th minute and the top-seeded Raiders polished off their 12th shutout of the season against the fourth-seeded Beacons at the Willamalane Sports Complex.
At noon Monday in the championship game, they'll get a rematch with 13th-ranked Corban, the only team to beat them during the CCC play.
In their semifinal game, the third-seeded Warriors knocked off regular-season co-champion Rocky Mountain (Mont.) in penalty kicks after 90 minutes of regulation and two overtime periods produced a scoreless draw. On Sept. 30 in Salem, they took a 2-0 decision from SOU.
Because the Raiders already received the CCC's first automatic bid to the NAIA Championships, Corban will get the second.
Against Northwest Christian — which SOU also defeated in the regular season, 2-0 — Pinney's fifth goal of the season and the 10th of his two-year Raider career was set up, following a turnover, by a through-ball from Logan Guler, who was credited with his first career assist. At the end of a diagonal run, Pinney received the pass and was left one-on-one with keeper Yayo Olvera, shooting from about 14 yards out to Olvera's left.
NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN 3, SOUTHERN OREGON 2: At Ashland, Northwest Christian had too much firepower for Southern Oregon in the fifth set at Mountain Avenue Gym, outlasting the Raiders by scores of 25-22, 13-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-5 in the Cascade Conference regular-season finale for both teams.
Megan Van Marter and Keri Schwarz had three kills apiece to head a .435 attack in the tiebreaker frame in helping the Beacons (16-9, 11-9 CCC) complete a season sweep of SOU (15-10, 12-8). Van Marter amassed 16 kills on 31 attacks with just one error, and Natalie Downes joined her in the middle with 14 kills on 30 swings.
The result had no bearing on the CCC Tournament picture. SOU will take the No. 5 seed and visit fourth-seeded and 21st-ranked Northwest (Wash.) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the first round.
The loss put a dreary spin on right-side hitter Taylor Ristvedt's career-high 23 kills and outside hitter Dani Johnson's career-high 18. Additionally for the Raiders, junior libero Ashlyn Flynn moved into the No. 3 spot on SOU's career digs list with 30 on the night, upping her career total to 1,364.
HUMBOLDT STATE 99, SOUTHERN OREGON 72: At Arcata, Calif., in an exhibition action at Lumberjack Arena, Humboldt State put five players in double figures and shot 51 percent.
Ariel Augustine, a junior forward, scored 16 points and pulled down five rebounds in her SOU debut. Toria Bradford went 6-of-7 from the field to score 16 of her own, but the Raiders were held to a 39-percent clip from the field and were outscored by 13 points in the first quarter and nine in the third.
SOUTHERN OREGON 38, SWOCC 21: At Coos Bay, ninth-ranked Southern Oregon started the 2017-18 season with an exhibition dual against Southwestern Oregon Community College, taking eight of 13 contests for a 38-21 victory on the Lakers' home mat.
Matt Peterson, a junior 133-pounder, and Cedrus King, a sophomore wrestling at 157 pounds, both won by fall for the Raiders. They also got bonus points from Andrew Ramirez at 141 (major decision), All-American Hunter Hodges at 157 (technical fall), C.J. McKinnis at 174 (technical fall) and All-American Tanner Fischer at 197 (injury default).
Devin Poppen (141) and Chandler Michael (149) both won by decision.
The Raiders begin the season in earnest next week, holding their annual Red & Black Intrasquad at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Ashland Middle School and hosting Menlo (Calif.) for a 7 p.m.dual on Friday at Phoenix High.