North Bend Volleyball

The North Bend volleyball team celebrates winning a point on Tuesday night at home against Willamette. It was a celebratory evening for the Bulldogs who recorded the team’s first league win since October 12, 2017.

NORTH BEND — While last week’s win over Siuslaw was a positive start to the season for the North Bend volleyball team, it did more than just put the team at 1-0 in the standings.

“I think last year we struggled because it almost felt like we couldn’t win or we didn’t know how to win. So we just expected to lose all the time. So I think Siuslaw was really a building time because, now we go, ‘Oh my gosh, we know how to win. We can do it,’” said senior outside hitter Kait Randle.

On Tuesday night at home Randle and the Bulldogs were able to channel that belief into another victory as the team defeated Willamette in four sets (25-14, 20-25, 25-22, 25-13) to kick off the Midwestern League season.

But this victory represents more than just a league win because for the Bulldogs, it is the team’s first league win since moving up to the 5A classification a season ago. After going winless in league play, North Bend has now done what they couldn’t do last year in addition to matching their entire win total from a season ago.

“I think, truthfully, it was play as hard as you can and just have fun. Like no more was there this pressure on us and I feel like everybody felt that. And we’re having fun playing. Volleyball is fun so let’s make sure it stays that way,” said Randle on what has helped the team get to this point. “I think it was really easy to forget that last year when we were getting stomped all the time.”

The Bulldogs were able to jump on the visiting Wolverines early in the first set. Helped by a 9-0 run, the team was confident and looked like it was on the way to an easy victory.

“When they came out, they were not cautious. They were like I’m going to hit, I’m going to do what we do, I’m going to play our game,” said North Bend head coach Jessica Randle. “And then second game they seemed to miss the point of  ‘Hey, we still need to be aggressive.’”

In the second set, Willamette was determined to not make it easy for North Bend. Led by outside hitter Alexis Cantu who finished with seven digs, six kills and three aces, the Wolverines were able to attack and capitalize on North Bend errors. The set was within three points in either direction until four straight North Bend balls hit into the net resulted in Willamette tying things up at one set apiece.

But North Bend’s all-around play was too much to handle for Willamette. The Bulldogs were not dependent on one individual threat but the entire team. Six North Bend players — Randle, Emily West, Mya Massey, Chelsea Howard, Abbie Kirby and Olivia Knutson — all finished the game credited with at least three kills and a block.

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Howard and Knutson led the way with eight kills while Randle had seven. Massey, a sophomore, had six blocks for the Bulldogs.

“This team is scrappy and it looks like they’re starting to trust each other,” said Jessica Randle.

The third set saw the Bulldogs just continue to use their depth to chip away at the Wolverines. The teams were trading points but North Bend built the lead and hung on to finish. The fourth set was tied at nine before a 10-2 run was able to put North Bend ahead for good.

And to close things out, junior Michelle Gochnour subbed in for the Bulldogs and put the game away with her serve.

“She gets up there, serves two great serves and then an ace on the final one,” said Jessica Randle on Gochnour who, normally, doesn’t serve. “It’s really nice at the end of a game to say that every single athlete contributed.”

North Bend heads out on the road for the first time this season on Thursday to take on North Eugene (also 1-0 in league). The Highlanders defeated Crater in straight sets on Tuesday night.

“It just changes the perception of everyone,” said Jessica Randle on her team’s fast start to the season. “When they go log onto OSAA like we’re all going to do tomorrow and see it’s going to be like ‘N- North Bend? Oh? OK.’

“We’re here to play.”

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