Southern Oregon volleyball coach Josh Rohlfing believes that when it comes to hitters, you can never have enough.
His team is providing plenty of supporting evidence these days, and that trend continued Friday night as Nikki Keller became the third different Raider in their last five matches to lead SOU's attack, pounding 14 kills on 16 swings to carry the Raiders to a 25-21, 25-18, 25-16 Cascade Conference victory over Evergreen State at Bob Riehm Arena.
The victory, which kicked off a five-match homestand, was Southern Oregon's third in its last four matches, a stretch that includes a five-set win at College of Idaho and a near-miss at No. 11 Eastern Oregon. The Raiders improved to 8-7 overall and 5-3 in the Cascade Conference, while Evergreen State fell to 2-10 and 1-6.
Recap: Nikki Keller had 14 kills and four blocks and Paulla Pinheiro added 10 kills and 10 digs as the Raiders continued to pick up steam with a 25-21, 25-18, 25-16 Cascade Conference victory. It was their 24th win in 25 matches against the Geoducks.
Up next: Northwest at Southern Oregon, 7 p.m.
The Raiders entered the match ranked third in the conference in team hitting percentage and had four players ranked in the top 12, the most in the CCC. That balance made the Raiders tough to defend again Friday night in front of 578 fans.
"Over the years, that (balance) has been a common goal for us, but it hasn't been something that we've always had," Rohlfing said. "I feel like this year, we could pull people off our bench and have them come in and lead us in kills. That is how deep we are "¦and that's how we were built. That's what we recruited for this year."
Besides Keller's explosion, Emma Gasman finished with 11 kills and two blocks, Paulla Pinheiro 10 kills and 10 digs and Mona Goudarzian nine kills and six digs. Freshman setter Lauren McGowne from Marshfield High continued her growth as a floor leader, spreading out 50 assists.
SOU also played tough defense, which was a tall order against Evergreen State's Victoria Love. The 6-foot-1 lefty middle blocker carried the Geoducks in the early going, notching 10 kills through the first two sets, but SOU held her to three kills on seven attacks in the third. Keller led the Raiders with four blocks and Renee Yomtob had a team-high 12 digs.
"When we were faced with any time of challenge we accepted it and then we changed how we were playing," Keller said. "So, (Love) had a few kills that went over our block, so to adjust we waited and then went up hard and penetrated over."
The Raiders seemed to get better as the match wore on, especially offensively. Shifting into overdrive for the third, SOU converted 16 of 32 attacks into kills with only two errors.
Gasman had five kills and Keller four in the final set, with Gasman's powerful spike to the floor providing the Raiders their first match point. They finished off Evergreen State moments later when Keller and Goudarzian combined to stuff Love at the net.
Before the big finish SOU scored a 6-1 run to pull away, turning a 14-12 advantage into a 20-13 blowout. Back-to-back spikes by Keller sparked the surge, which also included an ace by Tyana Andrews and kills by Pinheiro and Brookelynn Cole.
The Geoducks looked like they would put up a fight in the opening set, outscoring the Raiders 5-1 during one impressive stretch to seize a 15-14 lead. Love's kill capped that surge and had the visitors fired up, but SOU won the next three points on two kills and an attack error and never trailed that late in a set again.
Later, another kill by Love brought Evergreen State within 22-21, but the Raiders responded again, this time with kills by Andrews and McGowne (her only putaway of the match). SOU then clinched the set when ESU's Molly King sent a spike long.
"We really just wanted to focus on us," said Keller, whose team has now won 46 consecutive sets against the Geoducks. "We acknowledge the fact that they do have great hitters and they're going to get big kills, but we mainly just want to focus on what we're doing and how we're going to execute and not let them dictate how we're going to play our game."
The second set wasn't nearly as competitive. The Raiders used an 8-1 run to go up 8-2 and never led by less than three points the rest of the way.
SOU hit .393 in the second set (16 kills on 28 attacks) while holding Evergreen State to .097, its lowest output of the match.
With its next four matches at home, where SOU is 5-1, the Raiders are in position to challenge for a top-three league finish. That wouldn't surprise Rohlfing, who believes the Raiders are just getting warmed up.
"We are in the position that I thought we would be in right now in terms of growth," Rohlfing said. "I talked to the girls at the beginning of the year about being very deliberate about everything that we did. There is an ultimate plan that we're going to be at our best in November."