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The Canby volleyball team fought an uphill battle throughout their entire 2021 campaign. The Cougars were missing star players Daley McClellan and Caitlin Gay, both of whom graduated earlier this year to play Division I volleyball.
Two years removed from finishing a surprising third in the 2019 state tournament, the Cougs were rebuilding. Canby head coach TJ Schlatter summed up their position excellently in an interview with The Canby Current.
“Losing dominant players like Daley is always tough,” said Schlatter. “But it creates opportunities for players to step up and redefine their roles, and to create a new team identity.”
Throughout the year, the Cougars relied on a scrappy mentality to earn wins.
In their final week, Canby picked up their fifth and final win of the season with a 2-0 victory over Aloha, winning the sets 25-17, 25-12. The Cougars concluded their season by being swept by Oregon City, before hanging tough with the Lakeridge Pacers on senior night.
“We played hard, we played together, we played smarter, and we got the other teams out of their system,” Schlatter said. “We were able to dig the lights out of them and give them fits.”
Though the Cougars did not pick up the win over the Pacers, losing 3-1, they did show dramatic improvement from their previous meeting in September, which Lakeridge swept in convincing fashion.
This time around, Canby won one set, and barely lost another. The game was emblematic of their season: On-field results might not have been there, but the improvement was something Schlatter and the team were proud of.
The game started out with the Cougars jumping out quickly. Canby was up 15-11, startling a previously confident Pacer team. The team was revolving around middle blocker Chloe Annas, as it had for much of the season.
Annas had been on the varsity team since her freshman year, but this season was the first time she had received significant playing time. The junior stepped up and became a force on the offensive side.
Canby was able to maintain their first set lead, holding on to a 24-23 advantage thanks to excellent defensive play from Gabrielle Gray. The senior, whose excellent digs kept plays alive all season, continued her efforts in her final game as a Cougar.
“Gabi really stepped up as the team leader both on and off the court,” Schlatter said. “She played both as a Libero and a defensive specialist and was invaluable to our successes.”
After losing the first set 24-26, the Cougs jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the second. They remained close, trailing 8-10, before Natalie Just set up a ball to Atalie Leder to tighten the gap. Just, a junior transfer, had taken over the reins at setter for the year and impressed her coaches with her offensive ability.
Just replaced the former setter, Leder, who stepped into her new role as outside hitter without complaint and quickly became one of the most consistent and reliable hitters for the Cougars. Her kill was able to close the game to 10-11, but the Pacers would end up winning the second set, 25-16.
The third set is where the Cougars shone. All of the pieces worked together as Canby jumped out to an early 10-7 lead before holding on for a tight 25-23 win. The final point was won when libero Samy Vandecoevering handled a ball to Just, who set up Rayanne Schedler for the kill.
The crowd and team went into hysterics as the Cougars took the third set.
Vandecoevering, who finished the season as libero, commanded the defense for the Cougars. In the fourth set, she continued to be a defensive spark plug, keeping Canby in the game with her effort.
She set up several opportunities early to keep things close, but the Cougars fell in their final set of the season, 14-25.
Canby will not be in the playoffs for the first time in a few years, but Schlatter was very proud of her squad.
“I was very proud of this team that was physically outmatched in just about every match we played but they never backed down,” Schlatter said. “They kept coming in the gym every day to work hard and get better. It was a pleasure to be in the gym with them.”
The Cougar girls finished the season 5-17 overall, with a Three Rivers League mark of 2-12. It may not be the most impressive record, but Schlatter and the team know all the adversity they’ve been through and how far they’ve come. And they’re proud.
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