Though the results didn't always show it, Wilsonville boys lacrosse head coach Michael Wilson noticed his players improving steadily throughout the season.
The underclassmen-laden Wilsonville team won 3-of-11 games during the regular season and lost to Liberty with a spot in the state playoffs on the line.
But in the Cascade Cup, Wilsonville showed the gains their hard work had reaped.
The Wildcats earned convincing wins over Ridgeview and Corvallis before falling to Hood River in the semifinals of the tournament featuring a constellation of teams that did not make the state playoffs.
"I was very pleased with how it came together. We were saying our mantra was 'Trust the process.' By the end of the year it really came together. The future is bright," Wilson said.
Wilsonville was an apparent underdog in its first round game against Ridgeview. The Wildcats had lost to Ridgeview 15-7 during the regular season and were seeded 11th whereas Ridgeview was seeded eighth.
And Ridgeview took an early lead and led for most of the game. But Wilsonville fought back and pulled out an 11-8 victory.
"We were trailing most of the game, but kept battling for every ground ball, every possession. We had to drive three hours to play a team that beat us by eight goals. That game showed how much they've grown," Wilson said.
Wilsonville then played No. 12 Corvallis in the Cascade Cup quarterfinals. The game was tied 7-7 at halftime and one Corvallis player scored all seven of the team's goals. So Wilson assigned senior Derek Irby to defend the player. Irby shut him down and the Wildcats won the second half 9-1 and the game 16-8.
In the semifinals, Wilsonville lost to No. 1-seed Hood River 15-2. The Wildcats hung tough with the Eagles in the first quarter — allowing just two goals — but Hood River dominated the rest of the game.
Wilsonville freshman Benjamin Nieuwstraten scored the Wildcats' first of two goals with 6:13 left in the third quarter.
Wilson says his team was simply outmanned.
"I think we ran out of numbers. We were running on empty. We had 14 players and one was injured. They had 20 and they subbed. They did a great job on ground balls and in transition," he said.
Still, Wilson said Wilsonville played its best lacrosse in the final weeks of the season.
"The chemistry got better and they trusted each other more offensively. Our offense worked more like we wanted it to all season. They moved the ball really well and found cutters," he said.
Seven Wilsonville players received all-Northwest Oregon Conference honors.
Goalkeeper Chris Branson was named First Team All-League, Keagan Jones, Kai McDonald and Derek Irby made Second Team All-League and Nieuwstraten, Cooper Mootz and Jay Brunston-Tatro were honorable mentions.
Wilson considers Branson one of the best goalkeepers in Oregon.
"He's just comfortable in the cage. He rarely gets rattled. He's like the quarterback of the defense. He's calling out where the ball is, where the help is coming from. Being a senior, he's had plenty of games of experience," Wilson said.
McDonald handled the vast majority of Wilsonville's face-offs and contributed both offensively and defensively.
"He just completely battled all year," Wilson said.
Irby is naturally an offensive player who switched to the defensive end to fortify the Wildcats' back line.
"He would have been higher than second team if he had played attack. He literally did whatever we needed him to do," Wilson said.
Despite being freshmen, Jones and Niewstraten led the Wildcats in goals this season.
"Both he (Jones) and Ben are so competitive. They just battle for every possession and every ground ball," Wilson said.