Southern Oregon volleyball coach Josh Rohlfing knew he'd get a breakout performance at some point from his blossoming attack.
He got two of them Thursday in Raider sweeps of Simpson University and Menlo College in the four annual Paul Elliott Invitational at Bob Riehm Arena.
SOU hitters Liz Madden and Tyana Andrews totaled 17 kills apiece and Mona Goudarzian had 16 as the Raiders followed a 25-11, 25-17, 25-20 triumph over Simpson with a 25-17, 25-14, 25-23 win against Menlo.
The Raiders (2-4 overall) executed hitting averages of .387 and .306. They failed to eclipse the .100 mark in three of four losses at last week's Biola Invitational.
"I feel like we passed really well, and when you do that everything seems to flow together," Rohlfing said. "We looked in rhythm most of the time and that new for us."
Especially encouraging was a breakout performance from Brazilian newcomer Paula Pinheiro, who amassed a career-high 11 kills on 19 swings and tossed in eight digs. SOU's two new setters also showed increasing chemistry with their targets: Freshman Lauren McGowne had matches of 24 and 17 assists while junior Lindsay Verboort added 17 and 19.
Andrews came off the bench to provide the most efficient effort of the day, doing her damage on 26 attacks with just three errors. Madden was almost as effective with averages of .526 and .400.
As usual, libero Renee Yomtob and defensive specialist Brookelynn Cole provided steady presences in the back row. Yomtob, who has led the Raiders in every match, had 33 digs on the day — including a season-high 22 in the opener against Simpson — and Cole collected 16.
At the net for the Raiders, Sam Boehnke was in on seven of 11 blocks against Menlo.
"We have so many new pieces that our goal for the first two weeks was to just keep getting better," Rohlfing said. "We did that today."
The Raiders were busy keeping Nicole Yap in check during that match as she attacked 33 times and posted 13 kills to keep it close for the Oaks, who won earlier in the day against Northwest.
Simpson lost both of its matches and fell to 0-5 overall.
The Raiders will play today's third game, which will also serve as the tournament capper, at 6 p.m. against Lewis-Clark State, which won twice Thursday to up its record to 3-3.
Today's action starts at noon when Lewis-Clark State meets Menlo and resumes at 3 p.m. with Northwest versus Simpson.
The Southern Oregon men's cross country team spent all of last season atop the rankings, and the country's coaches think almost as highly of the Raiders again this year.
The Raiders opened at No. 2 in the NAIA preseason poll, which was released Wednesday by the national office. St. Francis (Ill.), which edged out SOU last year for the national title, occupied the top spot.
The Raiders have finished in the top four nationally each of the last five years and have five runners back who placed in the Cascade Conference's top 15 in 2012: Brett Hornig (Pleasanton, Calif./Amador Valley), Eric Avila (Chula Vista, Calif./Bonita Vista), Jared Hixon (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale) and Eric Ghelfi (Redding, Calif./Redding Adventist Academy).
"It's a nice testament to the work done by the people who have been here before and the athletes we have here now," SOU coach Grier Gatlin said. "Truthfully, though, it doesn't mean much until we start running."
The Raider men were also tabbed as the preseason favorites in the CCC. They'll first report as a team today and their first meet is scheduled for Sept. 7 at the Humboldt State Invite.