SOU Volleyball Makes History; Advances to Round of Eight

Cascade Conference

The 2018 Southern Oregon University volleyball team’s place in the program’s rich history is no longer up for debate. Eight teams are left standing at the NAIA Championships, and for the first time, the Raiders are one of them.

SOU saved perhaps its grittiest win yet for the Round of 16, fighting off ninth-ranked Rocky Mountain (Mont.) for a 25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 25-17 victory Friday afternoon at the Tyson Events Center. The 10th-ranked Raiders (29-4), in the tournament field for the 10th time, are finally on to the quarterfinal round and will face No. 2 Park (Mo.) at 6:15 p.m. PST Friday for the right to advance to play on the last day of the season.

Nila Lukens – a junior outside hitter who was inserted as a starter only after Dani Johnson went down with an injury in the Cascade Conference Tournament championship – continued an outstanding late-season run by delivering a career-high 18 kills on 41 attacks. Taylor Ristvedt had 13 kills and four blocks, and Malie Rube – whose role also expanded after Johnson’s injury – came through with 12 kills.

Another key, however, was the insertion of a seldom-used middle blocker, sophomore Taylor Callahan.

The Raiders had to rally back from 20-15 and 21-18 deficits in the first set, scoring seven of the last nine points and finishing it with a Lukens kill and a Sara Fanger ace.

The Bears (30-6), champions of the Frontier Conference, attacked at a .308 average in the opening frame and at .464 in a second-set rout when the decision was made to use Callahan’s defense. They went on to hit .189 in the third and .077 in the fourth; their top attackers, Daniella Russell and Hailey Copinga, combined for 16 kills on 24 swings with no errors through the first two sets, then 14 kills on 45 attacks with seven errors the rest of the way.

The momentum swung in the third set, when SOU scored the final six points after trailing 22-19. Lukens had three kills during the rally, and a combo block by Callahan and Ristvedt ended it.

Makayla Hoyt added 10 kills and four blocks in the match, and Natalie James distributed 34 assists. The Raiders also got stellar back-row play from Kiley Barcroft (22 digs), Fanger (14) and Emma Ryan (10).

“It’s a really big deal for our program,” SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said. “Seeing us evolve in the last week of a season is something you don’t get every year. It’s just a really cool thing. I’m excited for the team and excited for these athletes who have worked their tails off.”

Park defeated College of Idaho in its first match Friday by scores of 25-18, 25-20, 23-25 and 25-19.

(Courtesy: SOU Sports Information)

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