Not that any more fuel needed to be dumped on this rivalry's fire, but the College of Idaho and Southern Oregon volleyball teams will do it anyway today when they go at again it in the Cascade Conference tournament.
For the eighth time in nine years, that is, and a championship has been on the line on six of those occasions. This one is just a semifinal, set for 6 p.m. Pacific Time, but it's just as significant as any of the others for the Raiders (17-9 overall), who likely need to win the CCC Championships presented by U.S. Bank to keep their season alive.
The last four teams standing will meet in Caldwell, Idaho, at C of I's J.A. Albertson Activities Center. The other semifinal pits second-seeded Eastern Oregon against third-seeded Concordia, and the championship is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m.
College of Idaho (16-9) jumped to No. 22 in the NAIA rankings after clinching its eighth straight regular season CCC title (SOU has shared three of those) last week with a record of 16-2. The Coyotes' four-set defeat of the Raiders on Nov. 2 in Ashland was their last real hurdle.
SOU has enjoyed more luck than any other team at C of I, which is only to say more than no luck at all. The Raiders' hardest-fought win of the year went 26-24, 18-25, 25-22, 23-25, 17-15 in Caldwell on Sept. 27 and finally put the Coyotes' 73-match home win streak in conference play to rest. They also celebrated their last tourney championship on C of I's home floor in 2011.
The Raiders passed their first postseason test on Tuesday with a sweep of Northwest Christian in Ashland, its eighth win in 10 matches, but this, they know, is a different animal.
"I think we've learned the intensity and the level you have to play at in order to be consistent against this caliber of a team," SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said. "We just have to get there, but we're at least not going to be shocked by the intensity."
The story less than two weeks ago, when SOU won the first set but dropped the next three, was C of I's net presence. The Coyotes totaled 14 blocks — the most put on the Raiders all season — led by Liz Myers' 51/2. The Raiders had the highest attacking average in the league during the conference season (.248) but were held to .182 on that night and .155 the first time the teams played.
With the middle of the net clogged up, the Raiders have done most of their damage from the outside against the Coyotes. Mona Goudarzian is averaging 18 kills in two matches and Paulla Pinheiro 16.
"It's going to come down to whoever can assert their will," Rohlfing said. "Both teams are comparable and Idaho's been so consistent throughout the season. They're such a good blocking team, but we're excited and we're ready to see what we're made of."
Myers leads the Coyotes in kills per set (3.05) and blocks (1.37). Outside hitter Emily Ottinger hit SOU up for a match-high 21 kills in Ashland and averages 2.90 per set, but she only appeared in 13 matches this season and missed the regular-season finale.
In regards to the other semifinal, Concordia swept the season series again SOU this year but couldn't beat Eastern. The Mountaineers and Raiders split a couple meetings.
The same four teams made the same final site in 2012. The last five final-fours have featured a combination of at least three of these squads.