Following Southern Oregon University’s dream run to the NAIA Sweet 16 last season, now-senior Carly Meister said, “We have some big shoes to fill.” This was clear, as SOU lost all-conference seniors Alexi Smith and Kristin Shoenherr to graduation, and now-former SOU coach Lynn Kennedy convinced freshman phenom Courtney West to join him at Portland State. Meister, the preseason Cascade Conference player of the year is also sidelined with an injury for the first couple weeks of the season. With a key player injured, the addition of a new coach and six new players, most teams would be starting over, but these teams aren’t SOU.
SOU’s first game was a home affair against the Simpson University Redhawks. The 16th ranked lady Raiders came out hot, leading 24-9 after the first quarter and by as many as 29 in the fourth. All-Conference senior point guard Ashley Claussen continued her hot shooting from last season, dominating the Redhawks to the tune of 22 points and 9 assists, with 3-5 shots falling from three point range. The Raiders never looked back after the first quarter, winning 104-82. Junior Autumn Durand, who started at forward in her first two seasons at SOU, will be entrusted to play post while Meister is out, but she held her own against Simpson, scoring 14 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. Key contributor Demi Sahlinger registered career highs with 8 points and 8 assists, but none of these come as a surprise. It turns out there may already be a successor to those shoes Meister said needed filling. Courtney Setzer, a freshman out of Crater High controlled the post against Simpson, scoring 27 points along with 10 rebounds.
Taylor Nuttall, a sophomore guard, who scored 8 points and had 2 steals against Simpson, is enthusiastic about Setzer and excited to see how she plays alongside Meister. “She really came out big in these past two games, especially as a freshman. I think she knew that coming in she had some big shoes to fill and she did it perfectly! The posts are *only* really good now and are going to be great when Carly comes back.”
Simpson was led by Esther Wofford, Kelsie Jurin, and Whitney Rodriguez with 19 points each. SOU forced the Redhawks into 25 turnovers.
SOU’s second game of the weekend was much more dramatic as they went on the road to face the University of California, Merced. The Raiders came out of the gate slow, facing a 19 point halftime deficit, but they quickly regained composure. A jumper by Tiani Bradford with 9 minutes remaining capped off a 21-0 run to give the lady Raiders a 57-55 advantage.
Neither team could gain much of an advantage the rest of the way and with 24 seconds remaining and a 1 point deficit, Toria Bradford, sister of Tiani stole the ball. Claussen was subsequently fouled and knocked down both free throws to give SOU a 74-73 lead. A Bobcat miss and two more free throws for Setzer sealed the comeback victory.
Nuttall contributes the comeback to the team’s character, “Our team is really close this year which is really good, and it carries over to the game. We have a lot of heart on our team and this year it’s going to be hard to beat us because of that… most teams would’ve just gave up and said that we already lost but we came out of the locker room and just looked at the game as being zero to zero.”
Claussen and Setzer again ran the show with 24 points, 8 assists and 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks respectively. Tiani Bradford also chipped in with 13 points and 7 boards. Setzer was named the CCC Red Lion player of the week for her performance in the first two games.
Despite some changes, and a new coach, the lady Raiders aren’t short on this seasons aspirations. Nuttall concluded, saying, “We are looking to get back to nationals and win the league title. Losing a few girls from last year was a little hard but the team as a whole is stepping up and filling those spots.”