Southern Oregon University will dip its toes in the sand for the first time this weekend when the Raider beach volleyball program debuts with five contests in Salem.

SOU announced the addition of the sport in December of 2021 and Paul Elliott – who became the winningest indoor volleyball coach in school history while leading the Raiders from 1991-2006 – was named the head coach two months later. His inaugural roster comprises 14 student-athletes, seven of whom also competed on SOU’s indoor team this fall.

“It’s exciting to get started and find out what this is going to look like, because we don’t have much of an idea of how the competition is at this point,” Elliott said. “We’re obviously inexperienced but the expectation for them is to just use all the knowledge and skills they’ve gained over the last few months and go play free and with joy.”

Their first outings will take place on the campus of Corban University – Friday against Bushnell and Northwest (Wash.), and Saturday against Corban, Bushnell and Northwest. They’ll be home, on the newly-constructed beach courts behind Raider Stadium, for scrimmages Feb. 24 against Rogue C.C. and Feb. 25 against Cal Poly Humboldt.

HOW IT WORKS: Beach volleyball is played in pairs, and each contest features five pairs from both teams going head-to-head: SOU’s top pair will match up with the opponent’s top pair, SOU’s No. 2 pair will match up with the opponent’s No. 2 pair, and so on. Whichever team comes out on top in the best-of-five match series earns the win. Each individual match is a best-of-three sets: The pairs play to 21 points in the first two sets and to 15 in the tiebreaker, all by rally scoring.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL IN THE NAIA: Considered the fastest-growing sport in the country, beach volleyball was sponsored by 13 NAIA schools last year and is already up to 30 now – including eight in California, three in Oregon, three in Arizona and one in Washington. Among Cascade Conference schools, Corban – the defending national champion – is in its fourth season of competition, Bushnell is in its second, and SOU and Northwest (Wash.) are new to the fray this year. In January, College of Idaho announced the addition of a program that will debut in 2024.

Northwest will not participate in the postseason this year, but SOU, Bushnell and Corban will join five teams from the California Pacific Conference – Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.), Marymount (Calif.), Park-Gilbert (Ariz.), Saint Katherine (Calif.) and Westcliff (Calif.) – for the NAIA West Group Qualifying Tournament on April 6-8 in Chula Vista, Calif. The NAIA Invitational, set for April 20-22 in Panama City, Fla., will feature six teams – the four winners of the regional qualifying tournaments along with two at-large squads.

ABOUT THE RAIDERS: To start the season, Madi Gray and Skyy Nihipali-Botelho will join forces as SOU’s top duo. Gray was part of the No. 4 pair last year at University of Louisiana Monroe, and before that was an All-American libero at Feather River C.C. (Calif.). Nihipali-Botelho also has a libero background, having played for the indoor team at Menlo (Calif.) in 2020 and ’21.

Two SOU indoor regulars, Taylor Jackson and Karina Oliveira, will open as the No. 2 pair. Jackson appeared as a middle, a right-side hitter and a service specialist for the Raiders, while Oliveira was a top defensive specialist for the last two seasons.

Kayla Neidigh, who shared starting libero duties for the Raiders during indoor season and was one of the league leaders in digs, is partnering with Savannah Schwindt, an outside hitter on the indoor team, to make up the No. 3 pair. Four individuals exclusive to the beach team will round out the lineup: Kiya Jackson and Addison Weckerle on the No. 4 team, and Robin Anderson and AC Reyes on the No. 5 team.

“There’s been so much improvement from where we started in the fall,” Elliott said. “I’m proud of the way they’ve progressed and now they have a chance to be college athletes. We think we have a chance to be pretty good in some pairs but it’s time to find out.”

Content used with permission, compliments of SOU Sports
Photo by Al Case, Ashland Daily Photo


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