NORTH BEND — John Olson went back-and-forth on the idea several times.
Two years ago, North Bend needed a junior varsity softball coach under Ryan Goll, and Olson, with some softball coaching experience from the early 90s, decided he wanted to help the program and the eight members of one of his geometry classes.
“I thought, ‘What would they get for a last-second coach?’” Olson said. “I enjoyed coaching softball in the ‘90s. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll do it. I’ll just have fun with them because they’re such great kids.’”
After Goll left North Bend for South Umpqua, Olson filled the void and takes over a North Bend program coming off its best season in recent memory, but also one that has to replace three key components while jumping into the Class 5A ranks.
“I just loved it,” Olson said. “I loved it the first two years I did it in the 90s. I loved it the last two years. When Ryan left, you see the group of kids we have. These are great girls. I thought it would be an honor to be their coach.”
As the JV coach last season, Olson saw up close how North Bend built its foundation under Goll behind players like Cheyenne Datan and Mekenzie Brock, who are both at Pacific University, and Drew Culver (Mount Hood Community College) and is optimistic the Bulldogs can fill those holes with either already rostered players or newcomers from JV or below.
Perhaps most crucial for North Bend is to replace Datan, whose velocity, change-up and competitiveness kept North Bend in just about every game a season ago.
Olson has some options. There’s the left-hander in freshman Saige Vaughn, and there’s the righty Eliana White, who is a junior.
Olson has been impressed with Vaughn, electing to send the freshman straight to the varsity club after a strong tryout.
“She’s pretty talented as a freshman,” Olson said. “She has a couple different pitches in her arsenal. We’ll just see how she does live. In practice she’s done a great job.”
White, while not possessing the velocity of Datan or maybe even Vaughn, is efficient, pounding the strike zone and pitching to contact.
“We’re hoping people will be ahead of her and chop it into the ground,” Olson said.
Olson has a defense behind either Vaughn or White that can make all the plays, even with the shortstop (Brock) and center fielder (Culver) needing to be replaced.
Just like every other North Bend team this season, the Bulldogs will join the Midwestern League at the Class 5A level, and have an opportunity to compete within it.
Last year’s Midwestern League champ, Marist Catholic, is now in the Class 4A Sky-Em League and Eagle Point, Crater and Thurston all qualified for the state tournament.
But the Class 4A ranks were rather deep last year, as well, with North Bend going down in the quarterfinals of the state tournament to eventual runner-up Henley in a 2-0 thriller.
“I don’t see any worry,” Olson said. “I think they know they have to bring their A-game night in and night out. Runs are not gonna be as easy to get as they were, but there’s some good competition they played against last year. South Umpqua was a dang fine team and they played against some very good teams in the playoffs that I think would do very well at 5A last year. I think we got some teams on the schedule we that we have a good chance of beating and we have some teams that we’ll have to play extremely well to stay in the ballgame.”
The Bulldogs open the season Saturday with a doubleheader at Crater (the baseball team also opens the season with a twin bill against the Comets).
With a 21-game league schedule (the Bulldogs play the three Rogue Valley schools just twice each and the others three times), there isn't much room for nonleague games. But one will be North Bend's home opener next Thursday against Central.