Volleyball -- The Wolves take a big step toward winning the league title by beating Canby
by: DAN BROOD, YEAH! -- Ashton Bentz (10) and Sarah Kirsch celebrate during the Wolves' win at Canby.

CANBY - The Tualatin High School volleyball team hasn't clinched the Pacific Conference championship yet.

But the Timberwolves now certainly seem to be entrenched in the driver's seat in the race to the title.

Make that, firmly entrenched.

Thanks to a crucial, intense 25-23, 25-20, 20-25, 25-19 victory in a match at Canby on Tuesday, the Wolves appear to be well on their way to winning the league championship.

'This is real big,' Tualatin senior middle blocker Sam Child said after the victory over the Cougars. 'We still have some matches to play before we win the championship, but it feels good to be in the driver's seat.'

With the key win at Canby, Tualatin improved to 7-0 in Pacific Conference play. That mark puts the Wolves two matches ahead of both Canby and McMinnville, who are each 5-2, with each team having just three regular-season matches left to play.

'Oh my gosh. Words can't describe how big this is,' Tualatin senior setter Gabriela Bosley said of the win at Canby that put the Wolves in position to win the league crown. 'The title is important to us. We've worked all season for it.'

And the Wolves also had to work hard in Tuesday's match against the talented Cougars, who came into the contest ranked No. 7 in the state.

The Wolves, getting a kill by sophomore Hannah Holloran off a set by Bosley, a kill by senior Sarah Kirsch and back-to-back ace serves by senior Abby Messenger, jumped out to a 15-9 lead in the first game.

Canby fought back, trimming the lead to 19-18 on a kill by Daniele Schmader.

With kills by Messenger and Kirsch, both off of sets by Bosley, Tualatin pushed its lead to 23-20. Canby, however, battled back to tie the game at 23-23. But the Wolves put away the 25-23 first-game victory thanks to a Cougar error and a block by Kirsch.

The determined Canby team, however, took charge in a big way early in the second game. The Cougars jumped out to leads of 5-0 and 12-4 and they looked to be on their way to winning the game. But Tualatin had other ideas.

With senior Ashton Bentz serving, Tualatin scored 13 unanswered points to take a 17-12 lead.

'That was awesome,' Bosley said. 'Ashton did an amazing job serving.'

Bentz had a pair of ace serves during the scoring streak. Bosley added a block, Child had a kill off a set by Bosley and she also scored on a tip following a key dig by junior libero Jordan Skinner to help the Wolves rally for the lead.

'It was the power of our confidence,' Child said. 'We have confidence in our passers and Ashton was amazing.'

Tualatin went on to win the second game 25-20, getting the final two points on a kill and a block by Bentz.

Canby, behind the play of sophomores Samantha Stutzman and Garyn Schlatter, came back to win the third game of the match 25-20.

The Cougars, hoping to push the match to a fifth game, took a 13-11 lead in the fourth game following a kill by Schmader.

Tualatin, getting a pair of kills by Kirsch, each coming off a set by Bosley, rallied to take a 14-13 lead, and the Wolves wouldn't trail again.

A block by Kirsch, followed by a tip by Holloran, pushed the margin to 19-15. The Timberwolf lead was 21-17 following back-to-back kills by Kirsch and Child. The Wolves ended up putting the game, and the match, away on a serve by Bentz.

'This is huge for a lot of reasons,' Tualatin coach Doug Rostron said. 'Their experience in the past has been that this gym has never been nice to play in for them. The growth these kids have had has been astronomical.

'One of the biggest hurdles has been mental attitude. These kids need to know and believe that they are among the elite teams in the state. We talked about playing with poise and total confidence.'

While Tualatin got strong games from Kirsch, Child, Messenger, Holloran and Bosley near the net, the Timberwolf defense was also crucial in the victory.

'Kudos to the defense,' Rostron said. 'The girls worked hard. They also served tough.'

Skinner played strong on defense for Tualatin, which also got strong play off the bench from junior defensive specialist Marty Pellicano.

'We played strong to the end,' Child said. 'We have good, strong fitness and that really helped. That and we all support each other.'

Tualatin, which scored a 25-18, 26-24, 25-11 win over Forest Grove on Tuesday, will be back in action tonight (Thursday) when it hosts rival Tigard (1-6 in league) starting at 6:15 p.m. On Tuesday, the Wolves will also be home to face Newberg (1-6) at 6:15 p.m.

With wins in both of those matches, Tualatin would wrap up sole possession of the league title.

'That's a goal,' Bosley said. 'And we want to push strong in the playoffs.'

If it wins the league title, Tualatin would have to win just one Class 6A state playoff match, at home, to advance the state tournament at the Chiles Center.

'We've thought about that,' Child said. 'But, for now, that's a distant goal.'

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