NORTH BEND — The impressive resurgence of North Bend’s volleyball team continued Tuesday night when the Bulldogs outlasted visiting Churchill in a tense five-set match.
The Bulldogs improved to 4-1 in the Midwestern League with their 25-17, 16-25, 25-22, 23-25, 20-18 victory. They are currently second only to North Eugene, though the Bulldogs have yet to play Thurston and Crater, which also have one league loss.
Tuesday’s win was the latest emotional win for the squad and included a roller-coaster fifth set that saw the Bulldogs build a 14-11 lead only to see the Lancers rally with four straight points and twice have a match point of their own before North Bend finally prevailed on a timely tip to an open spot in Churchill’s half of the court.
“I have trouble finding words to describe the fifth set,” said Chelsea Howard, who was North Bend’s most productive offensive threat on a night when the defenses for both teams shined.
Howard finished with 17 kills to lead the Bulldogs, while Kait Randle had seven and Adrianna Frank six — four of them in the final set.
It took a total team effort to hold off the Lancers, who fought back from a five-point deficit in the fourth set to force the final set.
“We definitely compete as a team now more than we ever have, which is why we push through,” said Howard, one of four seniors on the squad.
“Our team chemistry is 100 percent better (this year),” added libero Isabelle Pick, another senior.
The entire squad was part of the North Bend team that did not win a league match last fall, so getting off to a 4-1 start has been refreshing.
Tuesday’s result very nearly went the other way.
After North Bend and Churchill traded the first two sets, each winning relatively easily, the Bulldogs scored the final three points of the third set — two on kills by Howard — to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Then North Bend built an 18-13 lead in the fourth set, only to see Churchill score six straight points, two on aces by super libero Sydnee Francisco. The set was tied at 18, 19, 21, 22 and 23 before two North Bend errors kept Churchill in the match.
The Lancers scored the first three points of the fifth set before North Bend rallied. Howard had two of her kills to get the Bulldogs going and Randle and Frank had back-to-back kills for a 7-4 advantage. Maya Massey and Emily West both had stuff blocks to keep North Bend in front and the Bulldogs appeared primed for a victory when a kill by Frank put them in front 14-11.
But Churchill fought back. Nathaly Del Carpio and Jordan Oulette traded two kills each to put the Lancers up 15-14 and themselves on the verge of victory. The Lancers had a hitting error to give North Bend new life and North Bend went back in front on a kill by Frank.
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Then North Bend had one of its five service errors. A Churchill error put North Bend back in front, but Oulette had one of her 15 kills and a miss-hit by the Bulldogs again had Churchill on the verge of victory with an 18-17 edge.
But North Bend seized the win from behind, getting consecutive kills by Randle, Masey and Howard to close out the match.
Peck said the Bulldogs made smart plays down the stretch and communicated well.
“I think it was purely working together as a team,” she said.
North Bend coach Jessica Randle said her team continued a trend it has had all year of not being rattled when playing from behind.
“I’m really proud of them,” she said, adding that their maturity showed.
West had five kills and four stuff blocks and Massey had four kills and three stuff blocks for the Bulldogs. Setters Olivia Knutson and Sydney Wilson had 25 and 13 assists, respectively, and Knutson also had five kills.
Del Carpio had nine kills and Laila White had seven kills, to go with 27 assists, for the Lancers.
But the bigger numbers for each team came on defense.
Randle had 40 digs, Knutson 37, Peck 26 and Howard 24 for the Bulldogs and Francisco had 33 digs and White and Oulette 26 each for the Lancers.
Churchill coach Bre Gibbons said she was thrilled with how her team played, given its relative inexperience.
“We’re not used to fighting that hard,” she said. “I’m really proud of them.
“They are a young group. They are really learning.”
North Bend is on the road Thursday against Ashland, which is 2-2 in league play, and visits Marshfield for the Civil War match on Saturday in an endowment match slated to start at 6 p.m. at Pirate Palace.