Southern Oregon will have to beat Oregon Tech for the third time this season on Friday in order to advance to the finals of the Cascade Conference volleyball tournament at Caldwell, Idaho.

Southern Oregon will have to beat Oregon Tech for the third time this season on Friday in order to advance to the finals of the Cascade Conference volleyball tournament at Caldwell, Idaho.

The Raiders (19-9) and Owls (22-6) face off in the semifinals at 4 p.m. (MST), with the winner advancing to Saturday's finals against either Eastern Oregon (20-9) or No. 1-seeded and 21st-ranked College of Idaho (21-7).

"This team is good under pressure," SOU junior setter Lindsay Stone said. "We have a lot of very steady thinkers and we have a lot of cool heads on this team. We're going to play our game and see what happens."

The winner of the conference tournament earns an automatic berth to the NAIA Division II National Championships, which begin with opening-round matches Nov. 22.

The Raiders swept the season series from the Owls, but the second meeting Oct. 28 in Ashland was a barn-burner, with the Raiders eventually prevailing in five games. Senior middle blocker Mia Wortel led SOU with 18 kills and sophomore outside hitter Leanne Stennett added 15 putaways in a win that helped the Raiders finish second to C of I in the Cascade Conference standings. The Owls were led by Krista Wooley, who pounded home a match-high 21 kills on 34 swings with just five errors.

"They've got five solid hitters that crush the ball," SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing said. "(Wooley) is by far their best, but you have to put somebody on the other four, too, it's not like you can just key on her."

"We're just going to work on being really solid on our block," Stone added, "and if we can go up and take away an area on the block then our defense can play around it because we have a phenomenal defensive team."

Wortel leads the Raiders with 255 kills and a phenomenal .291 attack percentage. She also has a team-high 85 blocks.

Stennett, who played hurt most of the season with a strained abdominal muscle, has come on strong lately with 63 kills, 50 digs and a .361 attack percentage during the Raiders' current six-match winning streak.

Guiding the Raider offense is Stone, one of the best setters in the nation. She has 946 assists (10.75 per game) plus a team-high 34 aces. She likes to spread the ball around — four Raiders have at least 150 kills.

Rohlfing said College of Idaho should be considered the favorite to win the conference tournament.

"Their size really makes the difference," he said. "If they pass decently, their size will make up for any kind of fault they have. "¦ It's a tough matchup for us, unless we can get to our speed."

Stennett's a big part of that game plan, and now that she's "100 percent" healthy, the Raiders enter the postseason streaking and confident.

"We have an awesome team that can totally pull it off this year and I know everybody's so excited to go to nationals and play with the other teams that are at the top of their leagues," Stennett said. "It would be huge for the program."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com