If you believed all of the hype coming from the other side of the Willamette, this was supposed to be the year that Clackamas ended West Linn's reign atop the Three Rivers League volleyball standings.
But, only one conclusion could be drawn after the two teams met at Clackamas High School last Thursday, and a Clackamas father summed it up perfectly for his young daughter as they dejectedly left the gymnasium.
'Well, it looks like West Linn is still the best,' the father said with a tone of resignation in his voice.
At least the Clackamas fans could take solace in the fact that their team gave West Linn a tough time in the first game of last Thursday's showdown. That game ended 25-22 in West Linn's favor, but the Lions helped the Cavaliers' cause with some passing errors and a string of late mistakes that made the game closer than it should have been.
West Linn then settled down and won game 2 by a 25-18 score and game 3 by a 25-16 count. That gave West Linn a convincing 3-0 victory that left the Lions alone at the top of the TRL standings.
West Linn benefited from several solid performances but no one played a more important role than senior Lacey Mannex, who transferred from Jesuit at the beginning of the season.
Mannex, who attended Athey Creek Middle School before moving on to Jesuit, might have been the difference in game 2. Using a wicked, line-drive jump serve, Mannex won the first six points of the game. That streak included three aces, which is a rarity for one game.
That six-point run proved to be a crucial start for the Lions, who wound up winning the game by only seven points. That effort made Mannex look like the best server in the league, but surprisingly it was the first time she was allowed to serve outside of practice.
'It's the first time I've let her serve in a match, because she's been so inconsistent in practice,' West Linn coach Carl Neuberger said.
But Mannex didn't excel just at the service line. She was also one of the top hitters for the Lions. In fact, she had four kills in the decisive third set and three of those spikes came near the end when Clackamas was trying to fight its way back into the contest. Her best hit was a rocket-blast of a shot that scored the final point of the night.
'Lacey probably played her best match this year,' Neuberger said. 'I watched her a lot in the off-season and I know she can play like that, but for some reason she's been trying too hard.'
Mannex looks like she's fitting in pretty well now, though.
'Yah, you usually don't get transfers like that. That was completely unexpected,' the coach said.
Mannex certainly wasn't the only shining star for West Linn last week. Sophomore hitter Alyssa O'Neil had some important kills, especially late in the second game.
Plus, senior Kaitlin Locke contributed two key service points and had several perfectly-placed sets.
Then in game 3, left-hander middle blocker Leah Bergstrom stepped up to play a starring role. She had four kills in that game and then served up a crucial point late in the contest.
'She did have a big game,' Neuberger said of Bergstrom.
If it hadn't been for Mannex's heroics, libero Torie Bechtold might have been the player of the night. She made some digs that seemingly no one would have had a chance to reach.
'And I thought Torie Bechtold played real solid in the back row,' Neuberger said. 'She made some nice digs.'
The Lions also managed to limit the number of kills by Clackamas' star player, Beth Hanna. The lanky senior did have a few empathic spikes during the night, but West Linn held her to just one kill and one block during the third and final game.
Clackamas also hurt its chances by committing an uncharacteristic 11 unforced errors in the third game. Otherwise, that last game probably would have gone down to the wire.
'They came out in that third game kind of thinking (the Cavs) were going to fold their tent,' Neuberger said. 'You've got to respect your opponent all of the time and never under-estimate their desire to get something done.'
Overall, it might not have been West Linn's prettiest game, but it was an effective effort, especially for such an important contest.
'I didn't know what would happen here, so I'm glad it went in three (games),' the coach said.