Back in 2005 the Southern Oregon women's basketball program was coming off a 12-17 season and still recovering from the Kevin Wilson debacle when Lynn Kennedy made a bold prediction.




As the recruits continued to lined up, Kennedy, who had just completed his first season as SOU's head coach, declared that it would only take about two more years of rebuilding for the Raiders to regain their former stature as a legitimate Cascade Conference contender.




On Thursday, just eight games into his third season, Kennedy's beaming post-practice smile said it all. The Raiders are ahead of schedule. More precisely, they're 6-2 heading into Saturday's home game against Holy Names, and thanks to a split &

and near sweep &

on the always-tough Eastern Oregon-The College of Idaho road trip two weeks ago, they've proven that they're quite legit, too.




"I think that we're there as far as getting the players we want into this program," Kennedy said.




On the court, the turnaround is across the board. Southern Oregon leads the Cascade Conference in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage, and this less than three years removed from what turned out to be Wilson's farewell 4-25 campaign.




How have they done it? With balance, mostly. Only two Raiders, senior Chelsey Muri and sophomore Jackie Speer, are averaging double figures in points, while seven others score five points per game or more. Those numbers also reflect Kennedy's somewhat unique substitution pattern &

only three Raiders average more than 20 minute per game.




Of course, it helps when you have that many players capable of playing in SOU's up-tempo style.




"We're the tallest team in the league, but I feel like we're one of the most athletic, too," Kennedy said. "You can see that when you watch us play. We're up and down the floor, but we can pound it inside if we have to. We have really all aspects of the game on one team, so I think it's going to be a real exciting year."




Liberal subbing has kept the team fresh and efficient. Especially Muri. Formerly known as Chelsey Zimmerman, the recently married Muri is one of only two seniors on the team and appears quite comfortable in that leadership role. She's averaging 11.6 points, a team-high 3.4 assists and is shooting the lights out &

52 percent from the floor, including 44 percent from 3-point land.




Muri has been a rock of consistency throughout Kennedy's rebuilding effort. Now that the team is built, the hard-nosed guard can't wait to see how far the Raiders can go.




"This year, it really feels like we can go for it," she said. "It's just really exciting to see that everybody's on the same page. Everybody has the same mentality and has the same goals."




Muri isn't the team's only sharp-shooter. Four of the league's six most accurate 3-point shooters play for SOU, supporting Kennedy's claim that he has the best outside shooting team in the conference. The Raiders are led in that department by sophomore Whitney Scott, who has hit 13 of 27 bombs. Junior Rhiannon Dickison and freshman Carly Wood can also light it up from outside.




Another team strength that both Kennedy and Muri tout is the players' dedication to the program. That's not always the case, especially on a team as young as SOU &

10 of the 14 players on the roster are underclassmen. But the Raiders practice like they want to keep getting better, says Kennedy, which is why they continue to do so.




They'll have a golden opportunity to prove as much in front of their home fans Saturday. The visiting Hawks (4-7) are one of two teams that have beat Southern Oregon this season, and that 81-78 Holy Names victory back on Nov. 24 still doesn't sit well with the Raiders.




Less than a week after dominating the Oregon Tech tournament, the Raiders enter Saturday's game as confident as ever.




"We're going into every game knowing that we are the better team," Speer said. "It's our mistakes that could lead to our downfall, not the other team being better than us. It's up to us."




Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.