Saddled with lofty expectations, the Southern Oregon volleyball team finished second in the Cascade Conference last year, posted the program's 11th 20-win season in 12 years and was one match away from the NAIA national tournament.

Saddled with lofty expectations, the Southern Oregon volleyball team finished second in the Cascade Conference last year, posted the program's 11th 20-win season in 12 years and was one match away from the NAIA national tournament.

A year later, SOU head coach Josh Rohlfing is down two All-Americans — Mia Wortel (graduation) and Lindsey Stone (medical redshirt) — but still envisions a high ceiling for a team that returns nine contributing players from last fall's outfit.

"We heaped a lot of expectations on last year's team, and I think it's too early for that stuff with this group," Rohlfing said. "I think this group in the long run is going to be very good. Right now, until we get our best six on the floor, I don't know; time will tell, and we have to play somebody first."

While Rohlfing says he is still about a month away from knowing who his top six players will be, a successful spring and a handful of early practices have given him reason to believe it can be a successful one.

Junior outside hitter Leanne Stennett, who tallied 101 kills in 2008, has received high praise for her play, and Rohlfing believes she could be one of the conference's impact player. Sarah Holgen, who was second on the team to Wortel in kills as a freshman, returns to join Stennett on the outside.

The setter position, now vacant with the absence of Stone, last year's conference most valuable player, will be filled by either senior/defensive specialist-convert Dolores Christensen, redshirt freshman Angela Spieker or freshman Caryn Westrick (Bonney Lake, Wash.).

"I don't think (Stone and Wortel) are replaceable in any shape or form," Rohlfing said. "We relied on those two very heavily last year, so we're not looking to replace, but to build a team."

Freshman Natalie Scheller, a 6-foot outside hitter, has also impressed Rohlfing with her swing and ability to play both offensively and defensively. She'll be joined at the net by juniors Leah Bergstrom (Jr.) and Heather Porter and sophomore Megan Bartling. All are at least 6 feet tall and enjoyed significant playing time last year.

Maggie Rivers, the reigning conference libero of the year, returns in the back for her junior season.

The Raiders host a two-day tournament Aug. 21-22 in which they will be tested in three matches, and Rohlfing says he should be close to putting together a rotation by the end of this week.

"The skill level is improving very rapidly right now, and this is a group that enjoys to learn," Rohlfing said. "They take things and really try to apply it, which is exactly what you want as a coach and what you need to do to get better. The experience we lost is a piece that is only going to come through playing and doing the right things in practice."

Soccer

The Southern Oregon women's soccer team has been picked to finish fourth in this year's Cascade Conference preseason poll in vote of conference coaches.

The Raiders went 9-10 overall last year and 7-3 in conference play to finish fifth in the standings. They made it the conference tournament semifinals.

Concordia, which has won nine straight conference titles, is the unanimous favorite. College of Idaho is picked to finish second, followed by Oregon Tech.

The Raiders return eight starters off of last year's team, including junior all-conference performer Auika Muragin, senior Dianne Uehara and sophomores Denise Powell and Jessica Kuehlwein.

SOU's first non-conference game is Aug. 28, when it hosts Concordia-Irvine at 5 p.m.