VALE — The Vale volleyball team learned a big lesson about staying focused on Saturday afternoon, coming alive in the later sets for a 3-2 (25-16, 24-26, 16-25, 25-16, 15-8) win over Irrigon.

After looking dominant in the first set, the Vikings fell apart midway through the second set, with Irrigon taking a 21-13 lead. The Vikings were able to battle back but ultimately fell 26-24. That loss transitioned to a sloppy third set full of errors.

“We fought a lot of demons, staying focused both verbally and mentally, today,” Vale coach Shannon Steele said.

“A lot of us were playing selfishly,” Vale senior Sierra Cleaver said. “We were not coming together as a team. We were not sticking to the game plan. We were not talking at all.”

With the Vikings struggling to find consistency, Steele said she told the Vikings to focus on their fundamentals that they have been working on all season.

“Before the fourth set, I took them back to day one to practice,” Steele said. “What are our goals? What are the rules that we follow? Use those principles. That will win this game for you.”

That return to the basics was exactly what the Vikings needed, as they cruised in the fourth set and looked dominant in the fifth.

Cleaver said the close loss in the second set got the Vikings down in the third set, which was hard to come back from in a game so based on momentum.

“It was extremely hard to turn it around,” Cleaver said. “After a loss like that it’s easy for you to just get down and give up. We just needed to talk, a lot.”

Steele was happy with how the Vikings served on Saturday (a staple of Vale volleyball).

“I thought we did a good job of serving today once we were focused,” Steele said. “And our blocking. We did a nice job at the net.”

The Vikings (8-10, 4-0 EOL) have yet to lose in October this year and are currently on a five game winning streak, including a 3-1 win over highly-ranked Burns on Sept. 24.

Cleaver said the key for the Vikings this year is in the team chemistry.

“Last year, we just had fewer leaders on the team,” Cleaver said. “But now, we really gel at practice. We just have a lot of fight and we’re not going to let anyone push us around.”

The Vikings have a date with Burns again on Tuesday night in Vale.

Following a tough preseason slate, Steele said the Vikings have found their identity and are ready for the challenge.

“This is still a pretty young team,” Steele said. “But this team, it’s about setting the standard. We go into a gym, home or away, and we play our game.”

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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