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NORTH BEND — It was a brief, but successful, non-league volleyball season for North Bend. With just one match on the schedule before the league season starts, the Bulldogs made the most of it on the way to a five-set victory (16-25, 25-18, 19-25, 25-19, 15-13) at home against Siuslaw on Thursday night.

“What a great [way] to start. We came off a tough season last year and for these girls to know this is what it feels like to win, we can do this is big,” said North Bend head coach Jessica Randle.

Playing in the North Bend Middle School gym for the foreseeable future while the high school gym is under repair from water damage, North Bend was looking to get the season off on the right foot. Last year the Bulldogs opened the season with a five-set loss to Siuslaw on the way to a 2-17 season. The team’s performance last year has been on senior Chelsea Howard’s mind.

“Well we are trying to be a lot more positive as a group than we were last year and it’s paying off. We work together really good as a group. We did not have a single league game win last year so we were coming in just ready, hungry. We want wins,” said Howard who finished with a team-high seven kills on the night.

Late in the fourth set the match was up for grabs as Siuslaw held tightly to a 17-15 lead. The visiting Vikings looked poised to take the set, and the match, before the Bulldogs strung together a 10-2 run to force a fifth set. In that stretch of play North Bend had kills from Emily West and Abbie Kirby before the set was capped with back-to-back blocks from Kirby and Kaitlyn Randle to take the set.

Fighting for a highly coveted win, the Bulldogs just wanted one point at a time.

“I just said, I want to be the first one to eight. Then they came back and I’m like, I want to be the first one to 10. Okay, 12. It was just little, we had to break it into little games,” said head coach Randle.

A 5-1 helped North Bend get to eight first but Siuslaw stormed back for a 10-9 lead. Scrapping for each point, Howard gave the team a boost as she out-jumped a pair of Vikings at the net on her way to recording a kill. With North Bend on the brink of victory, Siuslaw again fought back. As it had been all game it was senior outside hitter Mia Collins recording back-to-back kills to close North Bend’s advantage to 14-13 before the Bulldogs closed out the match.

Collins recorded a match-high 12 kills.

“Realizing that we’re not the same team we’ve been for four years is huge. So we’re kind of figuring out what our identity is,” said Siuslaw head coach Jon Hornung after the graduation of perennial all-league player MakYork. “It’s fun to see. So would I like to win? Yeah. But in the grand scheme of things first game of the season, it’s 5A, it’s North Bend — doesn’t really mean anything.”

North Bend’s setter Olivia Knutson finished the game with a full stat line including seven aces, six kills and four blocks. Randle noted “I can’t even count how many assists she had. That was insane.” Sophomore Massey had 11 blocks on the day while Kaitlyn Randle had six kills.

While North Bend came alive when the match was on the line, errors dogged the team early. In the third set Siuslaw was able to capitalize on a stretch of six straight points in which North Bend committed some type of error.

“I felt like the first game and the third game the ball played us. We felt like we were kind of victims like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are they going to do to us?’ And then it was like, wait a second here, we don’t have to let them do it to us, we can control the pace so that was nice to finally feel that,” said Jessica Randle.

Siuslaw was also impacted by the error-bug as stretches of the early sets included communication errors, mishit passes, spikes gone long and the nightmare of any volleyball coach: missed serves. As a team Siuslaw finished with 12 serving errors and North Bend recorded 10.

“Oh my gosh, there is no reason that a varsity team should miss that many serves in a match. That’s insane,” said Jessica Randle. “So the good news is, we have a good place to start. Because we are handing those points away. We can control that so I’m happy about that.”

With the nonleague schedule consisting of just one game, the Bulldogs now turn their attention to the Midwestern League. Seeking their first league win since October 12, 2017, North Bend welcomes Willamette to town on Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. It will be Willamette’s first match of the season.

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Reporter Zachary Silva can be reached at 541-266-6036 or by email at zachary.silva@theworldlink.com.

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