For the first time in eight seasons, the Southern Oregon University women’s basketball team are Cascade Conference Champions. To secure the title, SOU defeated Eastern Oregon on Saturday, 83-63 and College of Idaho on Sunday, 92-48. With the two victories, the Lady Raiders move to 24-1 overall and 17-1 in conference, and clinch an automatic bid to the NAIA tournament in Sioux City, Iowa next month.
In addition to being SOU’s only loss this season, Eastern Oregon had won the Cascade Conference for the past three years. But on Saturday, seniors Ashley
Claussen and Carly Meister finally got their revenge. Meister dominated the post in the first half, shooting 5-6 for 12 points. SOU had seven steals in the half, yet only led 37-30 at the half due in part to seven turnovers of their own.
Claussen and Meister put their stamp on the game in the second half. After shooting just 1-6 from the field in the first half, Claussen regained her form, shooting 6-9 to score 15 of her 21. Eastern kept within striking distance, but a sequence at the beginning of the fourth quarter essentially put the game out of reach. With a 62-56 lead, Autumn Durand knocked down a triple. Claussen then stole the ball and converted an and-one layup capped off with an energetic fist pump that got Mountain Avenue Gymnasium attendees on their feet.
Meister shot 5-5 in the second half to finish with a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds. Tiana Bradford had 15 points of her own and Durand chipped in with 10.
Coach Alex Carlson says avenging the early-season EOU defeat was sweet for multiple reasons. “We had that [loss] in the back of our mind, we really felt like we dropped one we should’ve had. So not only to beat them, but to take the conference championship away from them was huge.”
The Raiders ran away with Sunday’s Senior Night matchup with College of Idaho, beginning the game on a 24-3 run to ultimately cruise to their first CCC title in 8 seasons. Five Raiders scored in double figures, led by seniors Claussen and Meister with 18 and 13 respectively. Fellow senior Kristin Smeaton also got the start, finishing with six points and three rebounds. Courtney Setzer and Majerle Reeves scored 14 and 11 off the bench.
Following the C of I game, all three seniors, Meister, Claussen, and Smeaton were celebrated at center court, accompanied by family, friends, and a shower of gifts. Both Meister and Claussen acknowledged what senior night meant to them, saying it’s a good time to reflect on how far they’ve come since freshman year.
Coach Carlson recognized the trio, saying Meister, Claussen, and Smeaton are three of his team’s hardest workers and they are the ones who set the tone for the team’s work ethic. He also had high praise for Claussen and Meister individually, “Ashley and Carly have carried us – when we need big buckets, we need a stop, they’re the ones that step up for us. They’ve played exactly how you’d like seniors to play, they’ve just had an outstanding year, and I’m glad they can go out on top.”
With two games remaining, SOU has already clinched a number-one seed in the CCC tournament regardless of the outcome of their remaining games. They have already clinched an NAIA tournament berth as well, so their performance in the conference tourney will only determine their seeding for the national tournament in Sioux City next month.
Following the game, Coach Carlson said, “We’ve accomplished our first goal of winning the conference championship, and now it’s our goal to make a deep run in the national tournament.” In order to make this happen, Claussen said the Raider’s mindset is to take it “one game at a time. Just one game at a time.”
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