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Raiders set to open pool play at nationals

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Armed with its highest-ever ranking, a 14-match winning streak, a top seed in pool play and quality tournament experience, No. 5 Southern Oregon is ready to make its 10th appearance at the NAIA Volleyball Championships final site.

The Raiders (29-3) are guaranteed three matches at the 32-team tourney with a round-robin in Pool E, which is one of eight four-team groups. They’ll play at 9 a.m. Pacific Time this morning against Indiana Kokomo (27-11), 8 a.m. Wednesday against No. 23 Bellevue (Neb.) (27-8) and 10 a.m. Thursday against No. 12 Central Methodist (Mo.) (30-3).

The top-two finishers in each pool will advance to the 16-team single-elimination bracket. The Round of 16 and quarterfinals are scheduled for Friday, and the semifinals and championship match will be played Saturday.

Below is a look around Pool E:

Indiana University Kokomo

LOCATION: Kokomo, Indiana

CONFERENCE: River States (13-3, 2nd)

NAIA CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCE: 5th

ABOUT: The Cougars have dropped six of their last seven against teams outside of the River States Conference, but they enter having won six straight overall — including three in the RSC Tournament and another at Trinity Christian (Ill.) in the Opening Round. Of their eight non-conference losses, three were against third-ranked Indiana Wesleyan and two against 11th-ranked Marian (Ind.)... They feature the RSC Defensive Player of the Year, junior libero Macee Rudy, who ranks 16th nationally at 5.7 digs per set. Both of their middles were also first-team All-RSC selections: 5-foot-10 junior Erinn Adams (2.0 kills, .246, 1.2 blocks) and 6-1 sophomore Lizzie Sokeland (2.8 kills, .388, 0.8 blocks)... As a team, they attack at a .199 average and give up a .155 clip... They advanced to pool play for the first time last year and were swept in three straight matches.

Bellevue University

LOCATION: Bellevue, Nebraska

CONFERENCE: North Star Athletic Association (10-4, 2nd)

NAIA CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCE: 12th

ABOUT:The Bruins will present a much different look than IU Kokomo, relying heavily on a pair of outside hitters within an attack directed by NSAA Player of the Year Olivia Galas. Galas, a sophomore setter, is No. 8 on the NAIA assists leaderboard with 10.8 per set, most frequently going to sophomore Sierra Athen (3.6 kills, .205) and junior Andrea Carson (2.8 kills, .234). Junior middle Coree Lipovsky (2.0 kills, .295, 0.7 blocks) joined that trio as a conference all-star, helping the Bruins hit .217 and limit opponents to .145... They’ve lost three of their last six matches entering pool play — needing an Opening Round sweep of Lincoln (Ill.) to advance — but are a dangerous matchup, having notched wins against sixth-ranked Viterbo (Wisc.) and 19th-ranked Montana Tech and taken Central Methodist to five sets... They’re in pool play for the ninth time since 2000 and will be attempting to advance to the single-elimination bracket for the first time since 2008.

Central Methodist University

LOCATION: Fayette, Missouri

CONFERENCE: Heart of America (16-1, 1st)

NAIA CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCE: 2nd

ABOUT: Under first-year head coach Coleman Lee, the Eagles will match up with SOU’s size like few teams at the tournament with three first-team all-conference selections: 6-1 senior middle Mariana Do Nascimento (2.0 kills, .392, 0.9 blocks), 6-foot junior middle Grace Stumbaugh (2.2 kills, .391, 0.7 blocks) and 6-foot junior right-side Jordan Wolfe (2.9 kills, .320). That trio boosted the team to a .266 attacking average, the third-best in the NAIA... Libero Krystal Brauner (4.7) was named the HAAC Freshman of the Year, anchoring a defense that has held opponents to .111 attacking... The Eagles have won 23 of their last 24 matches — the lone loss in that stretch was in four sets against No. 13 Grand View (Iowa) — and have knocked off the likes of No. 4 Missouri Baptist, No. 19 Montana Tech and No. 23 Bellevue. Their last outing was a five-set win over Grand View in the HAAC Tournament championship... They appeared in pool play for the first time last season and went 1-2. A five-set loss to Eastern Oregon ultimately stopped them from moving on.

Briefly

  • The No. 1 overall seed at the tournament is Park (Mo.), which knocked out the Raiders last year in the quarterfinals and went on to win the national title. The matchup with SOU was a 25-23, 25-10, 22-25, 26-24 decision in which the Raiders had a 24-22 lead in the fourth set.
  • Prior to last season, the Raiders had only advanced to the single-elimination bracket once in team history, in 2011. They went 2-1 as a No. 2 seed in pool play last year, but their only loss was in five sets to Viterbo (Wisc.) — a match Viterbo retroactively forfeited due to use of an ineligible player.
  • For the second year in a row, the Raiders feature four players with 200-plus kills, a feat that had never previously been accomplished during Josh Rohlfing’s 13-year tenure. Taylor Ristvedt (3.7 kills, .355), Maddie Pernich (2.4 kills, .233), Elliott Cook (2.1 kills, .300) and Makayla Hoyt (1.9 kills, .354) head the fifth-most efficient attack (.258) in the NAIA.
  • Ristvedt, a senior right-side hitter, was voted the Cascade Conference Player of the Year for the second time and ranks ninth nationally in attacking average among individuals posting at least five attacks per set. Her next kill will be the 1,300th of her career, a number only one other player in team history has hit.
  • The Raiders last played on Nov. 16 in a 25-12, 25-22, 25-18 rout of No. 7 Eastern Oregon in the CCC Tournament championship, their most dominant performance of the season. They posted 10 blocks in the first set alone — the highest for any Rohlfing team in a single frame — and held the Mountaineers to a .036 average, their lowest since 2010.
  • SOU’s opponents are hitting .129 overall; the lowest ever year-end mark for a Rohlfing team was .132 in 2010. Senior libero Emma Ryan, who owns the eighth-most digs in SOU history (1,187), keys the defense, and Cook’s average of 1.1 blocks is 29th on the NAIA leaderboard.
  • Hoyt was named to the NAIA All-Tournament team last year after totaling 48 kills on a .293 average and 17 blocks over five matches. She and Sarah Holgen (2011) are the only Raiders to ever land on the team.
  • SOU has a 14-match winning streak going into the tournament and has won 18 consecutive sets. The Raiders’ No. 5 national ranking is the highest in team history; they ended last year at No. 8.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSOU’s Taylor Ristvedt makes a hit for a point in the 2nd set.