Wilsonville volleyball is right on schedule.
"I was always on a three year plan," says coach Nathan Blankenship, who last season, his second, led the Wildcats to a perfect 14-0 league record and Northwest Oregon Conference championship.
"My vision was to establish my methodology and the ethos of the program in year one. Year two was to win conference and year three was to really take a stab at winning state."
Wilsonville returns three First Team all-league players from last season in outside hitter Lindsey Hartford, who was also voted the conference's player of the year, setter Kennedy Juranek, and outside hitter Ashli Edmiston.
Libero Grace Thompson, an all-league honorable mention last season, is also back.
"She's extremely talented, energizer bunny, very much the positive energy of the team," Blankenship says.
Sisters Tenley and Tatum Lubisich are also expected to play big minutes for the Wildcats. Tatum, a sophomore, started in the middle as a freshman, and Tenley, a senior, returns after sitting out last season.
Blankenship also likes what he has seen from junior opposite Clarissa Klein, who was listed at 5-9 on last year's roster, but had a growth spurt in the offseason.
"She's a tremendous athlete," Blankenship says of Klein. "She's grown. She's even taller. She's now 6 foot and hitting the ball like a cannon."
MaKenna Wiepert, a freshman setter, is another player that has impressed Blankenship this summer.
"I think we have the horsepower," Blankenship says. "It's just a matter now of putting all the pieces together and playing as a team and realizing our potential. I think if we do that, we have a legitimate shot at winning state."
While Wilsonville went undefeated in the NWOC last season, one of the Wildcats biggest wins came in tournament play against West Linn. The Lions were No. 4 in Class 6A at the time.
"It gave the girls the understanding that we can play with anyone at any level," Blankenship says.
Wilsonville defeated Silverton 3-2 in the first round of the 5A playoffs, but then lost to Dallas and Hood River Valley in the state tournament at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
"One of the great things about last year was by going to Liberty, my younger players got a feel for the spotlight and the high pressure situation, which you see at the state finals," Blankenship says. "It gave them that experience so hopefully we will have less deer in the headlights when we get to state again this year. There was some nerves last year, you could tell, and it impacted our play. You expect that. You don't generally win a state championship the first time."
While Blankenship is excited about the amount of talent in the Wilsonville program, it is important that the Wildcats work as a team.
"That is something that we have focused on at Wilsonville to really drive towards being great teammates," Blankenship says. "It's not always about the skills that you bring to the floor. It's about how great a teammate you are because great teammates, people want to play with you. They want to play together, they get excited about the game, and that's incredibly important when you can rely on your teammate regardless whether you're winning or losing, you know your teammate is going to have your back 100 percent. It's empowering and it allows the girls to strive beyond what they think they can do because they know they have the support of their teammates."
It helps when your best players buy in to the methodology.
"For as talented as she (Hartford) is, she's so supportive and kind to her teammates, a great team leader," Blankenship says of last season's NWOC Player of the Year. "She helps steady the team, no matter what we're playing, she's always there."
The Wildcats open the 2019 season Sept. 5 at home against Milwaukie riding a 24-match league winning streak. Wilsonville's last NWOC loss came on Sept, 12, 2017 against Sandy.
"We fight for every point of every game of every match," Blankenship says. "It's every single point. It's doesn't matter who we're playing. We can be playing a really weak team or we can be playing the Olympic team, it doesn't matter. You play all out for every single point. We live and breathe on that."
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