Under first-year coach Terri Jo Schlatter, the Cougars defeat Beaverton-Valley Catholic in the championship match.

If the recent tournament at Glencoe High School was held earlier in the year, Terri Jo Schlatter said, the Canby volleyball team might not have had the mentality necessary to win it.

But the Cougars are much better now than they were six weeks ago, and they stepped away from their tough conference schedule to snag a first-place trophy Oct. 12 in Hillsboro.

“It was a tournament that we had a legitimate chance to win, but at the beginning of the season I don’t know if we would’ve taken advantage of it,” said Schlatter, who is in her first year at the helm of the program. “They’re getting hungrier. They’re starting to believe that they can win and that they deserve to win. I saw a lot of that fight in them at Glencoe. There’s a lot of excitement.”

It was certainly an encouraging turn of events for Canby (7-11, 2-5 in the Three Rivers League), which has not won a state playoff game since 2010.

The team began its day at Glencoe with pool-play matches, defeating Hermiston and Portland-Benson and splitting sets with a top-15 Class 5A squad in Hillsboro-Liberty.

The Cougars started bracket play by earning a 2-1 (25-23, 23-25, 15-9) victory over Hillsboro-Century, a redemptive triumph against the team that swept them in the first round of last year’s state playoffs.

Canby then pushed past host Glencoe in the semifinals to advance to the championship match, where it edged Beaverton-Valley Catholic 2-0 (25-23, 27-25) to snag the tournament title.

“I think these girls have made huge strides in how they’re playing and how smart they’re playing,” Schlatter said. “Ball-handling has had to be our strength, so it’s great to see them apply the stuff we’re working on to be successful.”

Outside hitter Mindy Wilmes, for one, played a key role for the Cougars in the tournament as a six-rotation player.

“She’s the tallest girl on our team,” Schlatter said of the 6-foot-1 junior, whose older sister is graduated star Emilie Wilmes. “But she’s a great ball-handler, she played great defense and she was very steady and reliable.”

Sophomore outside hitter Haley Patterson also had a standout tournament, ramping up her offensive efforts in bracket play.

“She was a go-to girl towards the end on the right side,” Schlatter said.

Senior setter Abby MacGregor, meanwhile, engineered Canby’s offense with aplomb. She has improved as an analyst of opposing defenses and adjusts her passes accordingly, Schlatter said.

“She’s recognizing who’s hot, and she’s really starting to get a handle on noticing where the blockers are and setting against the flow,” Schlatter said.

“But the thing I’m most excited about is the compliments I’ve been getting from other coaches about how good our ball-handling is. For this program, that’s been the weakness. We’ve had big hitters, but haven’t had the best ball-handling. Almost every time we play, I have coaches coming up and saying how good these girls are with ball-handling.”

Still, improvements in defense and passing haven’t always translated into victories for Canby in a perennially powerful conference that features three top-10 teams. Entering its Oct. 15 match at West Linn, it had only posted league wins against Oregon City: one in mid-September and another earlier this month.

The Pioneers were the only team the Cougars defeated in conference play last year.

“Beating Oregon City twice has been huge for them,” Schlatter said. “They went into both of those matches feeling like they could beat Oregon City, and that showed in how they played. When they played against West Linn (the first time) — a game I felt like we had a chance at winning — they wanted to win, but I don’t know if they really believed they could win. But they’re starting to realize that although these teams might be physically better, we’re right there. When they’re not confident, they can’t maintain what they’re doing. But if they play well, great things happen.”

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