SOUTH BEND — Hollie Haataia had 11 kills in a breakthrough game as Naselle dispatched South Bend 25-12, 25-15, 25-17.

The Comets, whose depth has been seriously tested to start the season, evened their record at 1-1. Naselle, already reloading from massive losses to graduation, has been without key players including setter Peyton Dalton. Dalton broke her toe in a quad accident the Saturday before the season started, likely putting her out the first 4-6 weeks of the year.

A setter makes a volleyball team go, reading the defense and distributing the ball much like a quarterback or a classic point guard. Unlike in football, where quarterback is the glamor position, in volleyball the hitters who finish off plays tend to get the glory. But a setter can be the biggest difference-maker. Naselle’s Taylor Gudmundsen won league MVP honors the past two years at the position; her predecessor, Taylor Eaton, won another in 2015.

As the Comets built this year’s team, Dalton, who had developed connections with most of her hitters in junior varsity and middle school, seemed a key to making things work. Without her, an inexperienced team would have to start over getting in sync. After Dalton’s Saturday injury, the team held an emergency practice that Sunday. The Comets had a jamboree, hosted by Columbia Adventist Academy, scheduled for Monday, and the season opener against Ilwaco the following day. Bella Colombo, a freshman who was penciled in as the junior varsity setter, won the varsity job in a competition that included Kylee Tarabochia. Dalton, hospitalized at OHSU Saturday, was already on hand Sunday, helping Colombo out.

“[Coach] Bekah [Wirkkala] has been really letting me still be part of the team,” Dalton said. “I’ve helped Bella with some tips that have helped me set better.”

Colombo, like Dalton, has set since sixth grade. But Dalton, a sophomore, had set for many of her current teammates when they were JV or swing players last season, and during summer volleyball and fall practice. Colombo, a freshman, had to quickly make those connections.

“I feel like I have big shoes to fill,” Colombo said. “Peyton’s been amazing. It feels good when I do something good, because I feel like I’m doing it for her.”

Coming out of crisis mode, the Comets went on a rapid upward trajectory. After a lopsided loss in Tuesday’s opener to an Ilwaco team that went 3-6 in the Pacific League last year, they looked like a different team just two days later, easily handling South Bend, which was 8-1 in the Pacific League last season. Colombo had the offense working Thursday, finishing with 15 assists.

Freshman libero Brynn Tarabochia provided strong defense and passing that helped get the team running smoothly Thursdayand opportunistically went on offense when she saw chances to exploit.

More than anything, Haataia’s complete dominance near the net led to the lopsidedness of the match. The 5’10” junior showed great vertical range, reaching for everything near the net and usually sending it back. She zipped the ball through blockers to the spots she wanted. She emerged as a favorite target of Colombo, who showed a knack for feeding her power game. Haataia finished with 11 kills against only two errors. Haataia, a swing player as a sophomore, seemed to be just realizing the extent of her powers.

“She got more used to Bella, and just more confident, reaching more for the ball and owning a leadership role,” Wirkkala said.

Colombo set up Haataia for a kill off the opening South Bend serve, then found an opening with a setter dump for an early 5-2 lead. Up 13-11, the Comets broke it open, closing the opening set with a 9-0 run. Brynn Tarabochia got to a tough ball on second contact and slammed it to an abandoned left corner for a 17-11 lead. Haataia took a behind-the-back feed and overpowered the defense for a 24-12 advantage, and the Comets won the set on the next point.

Brynn Tarabochia had another kill to start the second set, and followed with a diving stop that led to Naselle winning the next point. Haataia slammed the ball through a double-block for a 13-6 lead. After a pair of aces on pinpoint serves by Colombo, Haataia came up with two big blocks to win another point for an 18-10 lead, on their way to taking the set 25-15.

Haataia dominated the start to the third set. She opened with a kill on the back line. With Naselle up 3-0, she dug a tough ball out of the net and over on third contact, then spiked the return to win the point. She followed with an unblockable spike off the top of the net. Kaylin Shrives got in on the act, slamming a shot that went off the blocker’s hands and out. Haataia blasted a shot through a blocker and to an open corner for an 8-2 lead, then served an ace, inducing a late dive.

South Bend chipped away, cutting the lead to 15-13. Haataia, serving with a 19-14 lead, nailed the sideline for an ace. She lined a shot from mid-court through a blocker for another point to make it 24-15. Freshman Delaney Kragerud finished off the match with a kill.

Naselle will take on Pe Ell on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7:15 p.m., then visit Wishkah Sept. 24 at 7:00.

Aaron Mead is a sports writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or aaroncmead@gmail.com.

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