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NORTH BEND — For the second time this week, North Bend’s volleyball team won the first set in a home match Thursday, but couldn’t maintain the momentum to complete a victory.

Ashland left town with a 23-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-16 victory.

Still, even as the Bulldogs continued a winless Midwestern League season, the mood remained upbeat.

“The positivity is a lot better,” North Bend senior Hayden Markel said of the squad.

That attitude has carried the Bulldogs through the season as the losses have added up against talented and more experienced teams at the Class 5A level and along the way, the Bulldogs have gotten a bunch better as group.

“Certainly we’ve come a long ways,” Markel said. “The energy has gotten better. Our hustle has gotten better.”

And just like against Churchill on Tuesday, the Bulldogs got off to a great start.

They led nearly the entire first set, but had to hold off a late push when Ashland scored three straight points to pull within 24-23. Chelsea Howard won the set for North Bend with a carefully placed kill to the back right corner of the court.

Unlike Tuesday’s match against Churchill, North Bend kept the second and third sets close, but they couldn’t close the deal. The third set was the best chance for the Bulldogs, who trailed 21-20 before Ashland got a pair of aces from Sophia Wiencek and a stuff block and a kill from Rosie Dean to put the set away.

Ashland started the final set on a 12-2 run that was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome. They did pull within four points at 19-15 on two straight kills from Howard, but Ashland scored six of the last seven points to clinch the match.

In the end, the Bulldogs couldn’t counter Ashland’s powerful sophomore Ania Farmer, who had 17 kills and two stuff blocks. Emily DeVall had 13 kills, Dean added 10 kills and two stuff blocks, Bella Sallee had 14 digs and three aces and libero Sydney Philpott had 26 digs and three aces.

Markel had 11 kills and eight digs for the Bulldogs and Howard had eight kills and 17 digs. Kaitlyn Randle had a big night at libero, finishing with 24 digs, and Abbie Kirby had three kills and three stuff blocks.

Brooklyn Lyon and Sydney Wilson combined for 27 assists and 18 digs. Lyon also had five kills.

North Bend coach Jessica Randle loved her team’s effort on defense against the Grizzlies.

”There was some scrappy volleyball tonight,” she said. “We had some amazing pick-ups.”

Like Markel, Jessica Randle loves how the Bulldogs have kept a positive attitude and kept working hard to improve even though they haven’t been rewarded for their efforts with a league win.

“I think it shows they have faith in the process,” she said.

North Bend has just two seniors — Markel and Lyon — and had three freshmen play key roles, including Wilson, who shared setting duties with Lyon.

Randle expects the Bulldogs to continue to improve as they adjust to the speed of Class 5A volleyball.

“We’re going to be OK,” she said.

North Bend finishes the season with a home match Tuesday against Thurston, which also serves as senior night, and Thursday at league-champion Crater.

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Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 241, or by email at john.gunther@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jguntherworld.

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