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SALEM — A foundation was built with familiar faces, athletes who had competed with each other.

A successful high school coach, who had previously mentored many of those same players, quickly turned around a program struggling to remain competitive.

Corban University volleyball has become an NAIA national power in a short time, with four mid-valley players and three longtime coaches in the area playing major roles.

West Albany graduates Marandah Boeder, Haley Wells and Amber Parker and Santiam Christian alum Madison Milligan have helped the Warriors reach a second straight national tournament.

“You’re not re-teaching or training. You know what they’re capable of,” said head coach Kim McLain of growing the program. “Now you’re able to perfect it or tweak it and work on team more than individuals. It was a big step forward and a quick turnaround because these guys coming in had what it took.”

McLain was hired as Corban’s head coach in November 2014 after leading Santiam Christian High to five state titles in the previous six years and six state championships in 15 years with the Eagles.

Corban had won a combined 25 percent of its matches the previous three seasons.

Dick McLain, her husband and assistant at SC, joined her staff along with Tiffany Braun (formerly Tiffany Land), a former SC and Corban player.

The team’s 2015 roster included seven mid-valley players: three from Santiam Christian, two from Lebanon and two from West Albany. Lebanon graduates Mikenzee Frazier and Shelby Miller also played under the previous staff.

That team went 14-13 overall and 12-8 in Cascade Collegiate Conference play, a nine-game CCC improvement from 2014. Milligan, Parker and Wells were on the team that season. Boeder joined the program the next fall.

“I think one of the biggest things in volleyball is learning how to play next to people you may not even know,” Parker said. “Trying to get used to people and connect. We already had that for the most part. We knew what each other was capable of. It made it pretty easy.”

Parker, a senior outside hitter, was on the Western Oregon roster in 2013, played at Linn-Benton Community College in 2014 and is in her third year at Corban.

Uncertain of what to do in late 2014, she was encouraged by Milligan, the McLains’ daughter and a former club teammate, to join her at Corban, a small private school in southeast Salem. Parker wanted to find somewhere to stay the final three years of college, and Corban fit.

She was recently named to the all-Cascade Collegiate Conference first team for the third straight season.

Wells, a senior libero, played at Montana State Billings as a freshman in 2014 and returned to Oregon the following fall to play at Corban, where she was the CCC’s libero of the year last year.

“I had an option to go somewhere where I know the coaches and know the area. I knew half the team already, which was a really comforting feeling,” Wells said, adding that choosing Corban was an “easy decision” when choosing to leave Billings.

“It wasn’t like a new team because we had all already played together pretty much.”

Boeder played two seasons at Chemeketa Community College and joined the Corban program in 2016. She was an honorable mention all-conference selection this season.

Milligan, a junior setter, went to Western Oregon in 2014 and came to Corban when the McLains took over the team in 2015.

She decided to leave Western about the same time Corban made its coaching change and offered her mother the job.

“It was perfect timing, so that was cool,” she said.

Milligan and Parker played club volleyball together along with Oregon State transfer Samantha Rouleau in the BOSS program, which the McLains created and ran. Milligan was the 2015 conference freshman of the year and a first-team selection in 2016. She won three state titles at Santiam Christian.

Boeder and Wells played together in club and helped West Albany to a state title in 2013, and another a year earlier with Parker. Wells, who made the move from setter in high school to libero in college, played her one season at Montana State Billings with current Corban teammate Aliana Gentili, this year’s co-conference player of the year.

Corban followed its 2015 leap of improvement with another in 2016.

The Warriors went 25-8 (17-3 in conference). They were 2-1 in pool play at the national tournament to reach the round of 16, in which Corban lost in four sets to Dorst.

Corban, ranked 10th in the final NAIA coaches poll, returns to the national tournament this season after winning the Cascade regular season for the first time as well as the conference postseason tournament.

The Warriors were 17-3 in conference again and are 24-7 heading into the NAIA national championships, a 32-team tournament, in Sioux City, Iowa.

Parker leads the team in kills and is third in digs. Boeder is first in block assists and overall blocks. Wells is the team leader in digs and second in service aces. Milligan has shared time at setter this season but again leads the team in assists.

“There are girls that can handle the environment of being in championships and girls that cannot,” Kim McLain said. “For these guys, it’s familiar to them and the pressure of it. They’re going to rise to the occasion. They’re players that thrive under that.”

The Warriors, with a 17-day break after the CCC tournament, open three rounds of national tournament pool play against Missouri Valley on Nov. 28. They will then play Indiana Wesleyan and Park.

The top 16 teams in pool play move on to bracket play, held Dec. 1-2.

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Sports Reporter