The Olympic Rangers volleyball team stopped a seven-game losing streak Wednesday in NWAC play

BREMERTON — Tied 2-2 against Skagit Valley, the Olympic College volleyball team had a choice to make. 

Either let the fear of losing their eighth-straight match creep into their play, or fight for the win.

The Rangers chose to fight and came away with a 3-2 victory over the Cardinals to end a seven-game losing streak at Bremer Student Center gym.

It’s the first win of the NWAC North Division for OC which has played in countless close matches but hadn’t been able to capitalize on numerous opportunities — until Wednesday.

Game scores were 25-19, 24-26, 26-24, 16-25, 15-11.

Olympic College’s Katie Love hits during a match against the Skagit Valley Cardinals Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, at Bremer Student Center at OC in Bremerton. Olympic won 3-2. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Sophomore Katie Love, who returned to action two weeks ago after dealing with back spasms, was dominate offensively. Love finished with 19 kills, attributing to 24 points, with the most important coming at match point for the win. The Quilcene High product also had 18 digs.

The missed connections on the court that led to the losing streak was a puzzling one for the Rangers as they are a close-knit group, Love said. 

“Now that we’re connecting it’s super nice and I hope that it will be a big change for the rest of the season,” she said, adding the change of focus from ‘winning the match’ to ‘winning each point’ made a difference for OC. 

“You have to win the little points to win the big points pretty much,” she said. “You just gotta go for it.”

“It gets you down … that you have to really be able to find something in you to pull yourself back up,” said Natalie Miller of the losses. Miller, a freshman middle from South Kitsap who had 11 kills (.385 attack percentage) and six blocks, celebrated wildly with her teammates after the win as the Rangers released their anxiety and frustration over the losses.

“It finally happened,” she said. “We were waiting for this moment to come and we all worked as a team and we all worked our butts off out there — I don’t think I sweated so much in my entire life. Look what it got us?”

Teammate Natalie Lindhahl, a freshman middle from Olympic High who chipped in six kills, echoed Miller’s sentiments.

“Throughout all of our practices, throughout all of our talks as a team, our execution tonight — we did it. We found our rhythm, we knew what we had to do and we did it. And I’m ecstatic about it.”

Olympic College’s Natalie Miller, right, and Lynzey Schoening, go for a block during a match against the Skagit Valley Cardinals Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, at Bremer Student Center at OC in Bremerton. Olympic won 3-2. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The match itself pitted two similar teams but when the Rangers optimized their hitting, Skagit Valley didn’t quite have enough to stop it. It was the aggressive attacks from Love, Leah Kunz who had 15 kills, Miller and Lindahl that led the Rangers to the win, said OC coach Michelle Miller. 

“Honestly, we’ve been chasing this win for a while,” she said. “We’ve been so close, so close and had a bunch of heartbreaks. We kind of had a breakthrough and I think that’s the monkey off our back that we needed and we’re trying to go up to Whatcom and steal win (Friday) and come back and get a couple more next week.”

It also helped that OC had a size advantage over the Cardinals, especially with the 6-foot-1 Miller and 6-foot Lindahl at the net.

“They’ve been blocking really, really good,” Michelle Miller said, adding they changed their defense around to accommodate their setter. “We play better when we’re aggressive and confident. We do not play well when we play safe.”

The Rangers finished with 80 digs to Skagit’s 61. Ashley Jackson had 16, Lynzey Schoening had 12 (and 52 assists) and Kunz 10. 

“Skagit is a really good defensive team,” Natalie Miller said, “so it was a tactic of where do you put the ball? Where do you put it down? You have to place the ball (perfectly) because they’re so scrappy. Once we found our spots … we clicked and we knew what we were doing.”

Miller said the Rangers reverted to their former selves in the two set losses where they tend to freak out at the end of a set. 

Olympic College’s Natalie Miller, goes for a block during a match against the Skagit Valley Cardinals Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, at Bremer Student Center at OC in Bremerton. Olympic won 3-2. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“You can’t really play volleyball when you’re scared,” Love added. “Because then you mess up. It’s a huge mental game. If you tell yourself you’re going to mess up, you will.”

That’s what Miller told her players during a timeout in the fifth set.

“In that game, you could see it click where, win or lose, (they) were just going to go down and keep playing that aggressive volleyball … instead of playing it safe,” she said. “It finally paid off and it’s a huge monkey off our back to finally win one of those tight ones so we’re really excited.”

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