ASHLAND — While the Southern Oregon University soccer team's road to the NAIA Championships is a little longer than it had hoped, the Raiders are still pleased with where it begins.
They'll be on their home grass of University Field when the six-team Cascade Collegiate Conference playoffs begin at 2 p.m. on Wednesday against the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers.
The Raiders (9-5-3, 5-3-1 CCC) had a shot at the No. 2 seed and a bye to the semifinals but dipped to No. 4 with a 1-0 loss in their regular-season finale Saturday at Northwest University. The Mountaineers (9-4-1, 5-4-0) defeated College of Idaho 2-0 to claim the fifth spot.
Oregon Tech, the No. 6 seed, plays at Northwest in Wednesday's other game. The lowest seed remaining after the first round will play at top-ranked Concordia on Saturday and the other survivor will be at second-seeded Corban.
The tournament champion will be awarded the CCC's only automatic bid to the 32-team national tournament, for which SOU has never qualified.
The Raiders defeated EOU 3-1 in La Grande on Oct. 10 in the teams' only meeting this season, answering an early deficit with three straight goals — two by Julie Zamzow and the other by Presley Lambert — to end the match. They only manufactured six shots compared to EOU's nine but put them all on goal.
The schools haven't met in the conference tournament since 2002 — the Raiders won, 3-0 — but SOU has an 11-3-1 record in the all-time series and is 6-0-1 since 2007.
The tournament expanded from four to six teams just this season. This appearance will be the Raiders' fourth straight, and they've bowed out in the semifinal round of the last three. They last won five years ago at Northwest.
Eastern hasn't been included in the postseason since 2006.
The Mountaineers started off this season especially hot, going 4-0-2 before CCC play. They've been up-and-down since, stringing together consecutive wins just once.
Sophomore Tori Fedora and senior Mauriana Gonzalez are responsible for doing the bulk of the scoring. Fedora has five goals and six assists to her credit and Gonzalez has six goals and two assists. Five of Gonzalez' goals have come in Eastern's last five matches.
Southern Oregon is second in the CCC in goals allowed per game (0.88) and Eastern is third (1.07).
The Raiders got goals from 13 different players during the regular season, led by six from Sydney Paulsen and four apiece from Lisa Elledge and Zamzow. Paulsen and Chloe Welch led the team in assists with three each.
Jacquie Galvez came through with a goal and an assist in the same game for the first time in her career last Thursday to help the Raiders to a 3-1 win at Evergreen that locked up the home-field advantage.
Kylie Moltzen, SOU's freshman goalkeeper, enters postseason play with 55 saves and a single-season SOU record of seven shutouts.