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A year after its national title defense was halted midseason, the Southern Oregon University softball team’s roster looks no less imposing. Cascade Conference coaches confirmed as much by making the Raiders favorites to win the circuit again in 2021.

SOU, Oregon Tech and Corban, the CCC’s most consistent challengers in recent years, were picked to finish on top of the conference in that order. They were followed by College of Idaho, Carroll (Mont.) and Warner Pacific.

SOU was 23-3 overall, 9-0 in the conference and ranked No. 1 in the NAIA when play stopped last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three senior NAIA All-Americans, however, opted to take advantage of the free year of eligibility that was subsequently granted by the NAIA: 2019 NFCA-NAIA Pitcher of the Year Gabby Sandoval, 2019 NAIA World Series MVP Lauren Quirke, and 2019 All-America first-team catcher Allie Stines. When play stopped last year, Sandoval was sporting a 13-0 record, Quirke was batting .488, and Stines was at .481 while leading the country with 14 doubles.

Seven SOU position-player starters are back in all – six of whom also started for SOU’s national championship squad. And among SOU’s five newcomers is Riley Donovan, the younger sister of Harlee Donovan, SOU’s 2018 NAIA Player of the Year. Like her sister, Riley Donovan has joined the Raiders via College of San Mateo, where last year she batted .558 with 12 home runs in just 26 games.

Jessica Pistole, SOU’s head coach from 2015-19, qualifies as another key addition. She’s back after a year at University of San Diego, having led the Raiders to the first three NAIA World Series appearances in team history in her final three years at the helm. She’s also guided SOU to three of the last four CCC regular-season titles, in addition to three consecutive CCC Tournament championships.

SOU is scheduled to open conference play March 5 at Bushnell (formerly Northwest Christian).

The NAIA Top 25 preseason poll will be released Wednesday.