Consistency, confidence and chemistry are carrying Linn-Benton Community College’s volleyball team to another successful season.
A recent eight-match winning streak — with only one set loss in that stretch — has the Roadrunners on the path to the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament.
LB returned just four players from a team that went 13-1 in Northwest Athletic Conference South Region play to win the program’s second division title in three years.
But that hasn’t stopped the Roadrunners from a strong run.
Mitra Aflatooni, a sophomore outside hitter and Crescent Valley High graduate, says when she and her teammates are playing well they’re staying consistent and positive.
“We’re very poised under pressure,” Aflatooni said. “We don’t get too high and we don’t get too low. We play well when we’re calm and everything is just flowing.”
A three-set home sweep of Clackamas on Wednesday has Linn-Benton at 20-9 overall and 6-2 in the South Region. The Roadrunners were coming off a four-set South loss at region-leading Rogue four days earlier in Grants Pass.
It was in that defeat, and a five-set home loss to Lane to open South play, that the Roadrunners felt as they weren’t playing like themselves but were instead “frantic,” as sophomore outside hitter Ally Tow, a Sweet Home alum, describes it.
LB continues its season and begins the second half of the league schedule at home against Clark at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Roadrunners get rematches with Rogue (home Oct. 2) and Lane (in Eugene Oct. 12) later on.
“We’re going to take full advantage of that,” said Tow, named the NWAC offensive player of the week last month.
LB coach Jayme Frazier said “anything can happen” when it comes to chasing another South title. But she’s asked her players to not focus on that pursuit but instead on what they can control on their side of the net.
“If we do that, the right outcome will happen,” Frazier said.
This year’s team has a strong corps of area players with Tow, Aflatooni, freshman middle blocker Alexis Chapman (West Albany), freshman outside Taylor Tedrow (West Albany) and sophomore defensive specialist Daija Smith (Scio).
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Tow is first on the team in kills and service aces and second in digs and blocks. Aflatooni is second in kills and third in digs. Chapman is first in blocks and fourth in kills and Tedrow third in kills.
“It’s really been our local contingency that’s been our strong offense, and they’re only getting better as well,” Frazier said.
Sophomore libero Caithlynn Johnson (Sutherlin) is fifth in the NWAC in digs per set (5.05), Tow sixth in kills (3.75) and freshman setter Sydnie Johnson (South Umpqua) 11th in assists (7.39).
Tow said she feels she’s become a better back-row player than she was as a freshman.
Aflatooni, who says she had a “huge mindset change,” has seen her role increase this season.
“I just feel really confident and calm out on the court,” she said. “Last year I feel like I would be really stressed. This year I’m really comfortable with the team.”
Aflatooni, who also plays right-side hitter, said she doesn’t believe this team has as strong a skill level as last year’s squad but that the communication is stronger with a shared leadership among the players.
Linn-Benton has reached at least the NWAC quarterfinals the past five seasons, with a third-place finish in 2015, second in 2016 and fourth in 2017. The 2018 team made the quarterfinals and went 1-2 at the tournament.
The top four teams in the South Region will make the NWAC tournament, held Nov. 21-24 in Tacoma, Washington. With eight matches left in the regular season, Wednesday’s win put Linn-Benton 2.5 games ahead of fifth place in the region and headed for a top-four finish.
Frazier said because of the large influx of freshmen this fall there was a transition period where chemistry was developed. The Roadrunners started the season 1-3 before winning six in a row.
Last year’s freshmen joined a team that had eight sophomores with continuity having already spent hundreds of hours on the court together.
“This year it was all really new, so we kind of just made our chemistry,” Tow said.