The Cascade Collegiate Conference volleyball landscape won't be any easier to navigate in 2017 than it was last year when its top two teams, Corban and Eastern Oregon, were among the last 16 standing in the NAIA.
Preparing to operate without a senior on the roster, Southern Oregon was picked to finish fifth in the CCC preseason coaches' poll, which was released Thursday by the league office. The Raiders, coming off a season in which they went 14-14 overall and 11-9 in the CCC, open in six days in California at the Hope International/Vanguard Summer Slam.
Corban has been picked to end Eastern Oregon's run of three straight titles, garnering seven of 11 first-place votes. The Warriors didn't lose a starter off a team that went 17-3 in circuit action, and they have all-conference selections back at the outside hitter, middle, setter and libero positions.
Picked second with the other four first-place votes, EOU has five starters back from its team that advanced to the national quarterfinal round and went 19-1 in the CCC. College of Idaho was third in the poll while Northwest (Wash.), looking to build on a 15-5 campaign that was its best since 2005, was fourth.
After making back-to-back national tournament appearances, the Raiders started 11-5 in CCC play last year before dropping their last four matches and were eliminated by C of I in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament. They're tasked with replacing a pair of All-American four-year starters, Emma Gasman and Lauren McGowne, but return 12 players to go with a crop of five incoming recruits that includes three transfers.
Four teams went into the final day of the 2016 regular season with a chance to win the Cascade Conference men's soccer championship. With Corban as the early favorite, the battle for the top spot is projected to be just as strenuous this fall.
Southern Oregon was one of those four teams has been picked to finish fourth in this week's CCC preseason coaches' poll. In the program's second year of existence last season, the Raiders went 9-2-2 in the circuit and earned a postseason berth for the first time.
Corban, which shared the regular-season title with Rocky Mountain, won the CCC tournament and came up one win short of an NAIA quarterfinal appearance, was No. 1 in the poll with nine of 14 first-place votes. Among the Warriors' nine returning starters are three first-team all-conference selections, including Timur Zhividze, whose 23 goals and 11 assists made him the CCC Player of the Year.
Rocky received three first-place votes and was second in the poll, while Providence (Mont.) (formerly known as Great Falls) was third after going 8-5 in league play and advancing to the CCC tournament final.
Carroll (Mont.), Evergreen (Wash.), Northwest (Wash.) and Eastern Oregon slotted in behind SOU.
The Raiders return 23 players and nine starters, including all-conference performers Ahmon Afenegus, Carlos Magana and Sean McManamon.
SOU started practice officially on Monday and will scrimmage Saturday in Ashland against Rogue Community College and in Bend against Oregon State. The season-opener is Aug. 24 against The Master's (Calif.) in Atherton, Calif., and CCC play begins Sept. 15 at Rocky.