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Netters spike yet another league foe

by: Vern Uyetake, Lacey Mannex spikes a ball in West Linn’s three-set victory over Lake Oswego on Tuesday. Once again, the Lions find themselves alone in first place in the Three Rivers League midway through the season and continue to be ranked third in the state.

It's 102, and counting.

That's how many consecutive league matches the West Linn volleyball team has won, following Tuesday night's straight-sets victory over Lake Oswego.

For a while there was a dispute over what the actual number was, thanks partly to some shoddy math on the part of the media. Now, after the research efforts of West Linn head coach Carl Neuburger, we know that West Linn has eclipsed the century mark in consecutive league victories, a streak that dates back to the middle of the 1999 season.

More important than the number, though, is the fact that no one seems able to figure out the right strategy for beating West Linn, at least in league play.

Certainly, the ninth-ranked Lakeridge Pacers thought they had a good chance to upset West Linn last Thursday, and the Pacers were fired up enough to take on virtually anyone. Maybe they were too fired up, because West Linn won the match with ease.

'Everybody wants to be (West Linn's) first loss,' Lakeridge coach Wendy Stammer said. 'But when you do that sometimes you play not to lose.'

Of course, Neuburger knows full well how badly everyone wants to beat his team.

'Someone may (beat us),' the coach said. 'Nothing is locked in stone … If you're not ready to play on any given day, you can get beat.'

However, Neuburger's teams are always well-schooled in the art of taking advantage of every opportunity the opponent gives them. Last Thursday's match was no exception.

West Linn followed that effort by being equally inhospitable to Lake Oswego on Tuesday. The first game of that match was close for about 10 minutes, when the Lakers managed to turn a comfortable West Linn lead into a narrow 9-8 advantage.

But, in typical West Linn fashion, the Lions then went on a 11-3 run to take a commanding 21-11 lead. One half of West Linn's points during that run came on Lake Oswego errors. In fact, it was an error-filled game for the visiting Lakers, who gave the Lions 14 points en route to a 25-13 decision.

With very few true scoring opportunities available, left-handed middle blocker Leah Bergstrom led her team in that game with three kills. It was the start of one of the best matches of the season for Bergstrom.

'Leah's normal position is right (outside hitter), but her biggest strength for us is as a blocker and that's why I use her in the middle,' Neuburger said.

Lake Oswego, which often seems to succumb to a case of the nerves when playing West Linn, finally got on a roll in the second game, which easily could have ended in the Lakers' favor. Lake Oswego erased an early deficit to take a 7-4 lead.

But West Linn came back with five straight points, including two kills by Lacey Mannex, two service aces by Kellie Kawasaki and setter's dump by Kaitlin Locke. A short time later, West Linn had a six-point run that included four points by Michelle Hurt and a pair of Lake Oswego errors, which gave the Lions a 17-11 lead.

Lakers answered, though, with a 6-1 streak of their own and suddenly West Linn's advantage was narrowed to 18-17. That's when the Lions gradually started to pull away. A pair of kills by Bergstrom, a drop shot by Locke and a kill by Brittney Beatty finished off the Lakers in the second game, which ended 25-20 in West Linn's favor.

By then it was pretty obvious that West Linn would cruise to another league victory, but few people expected the blowout that ensued in game 3.

The Lions started off that game with six unanswered points, including two kills by Hurt.

Then there was an 8-1 run that featured three more points by Hurt. That pushed West Linn's lead to 15-5.

The Lions then closed out the victory by scoring the game's last 10 points. Once again, Hurt played an instrumental role with three more kills.

That gave her a total of eight points for the game. Bergstrom also had a kill in that final stretch while Betsy Wilhelm chipped in a block and Kawasaki added another service winner as the Lions rolled to a 25-6 decision.

'The big thing was Kellie Kawasaki's serving,' Neuburger said. 'She was serving the ball (deep) from the wall, and then she would drop one in over the net.'

The victory was so easy that West Linn had only minor problems covering for the absence of one of its best players, Alyssa O'Neil, who was out sick. But Neuburger certainly noticed that O'Neil was missing.

'Overall, it was pretty good,' Neuburger said. 'But I wasn't sure how we were going to play with that lineup, without basically even practicing with it.'

Certainly, Bergstrom helped fill the void and she did it despite injuring a finger during a blocking drill in Monday's practice.

'But she's a pretty tough kid,' the coach said.

The coach also liked the way Hurt played.

'She had a good match tonight,' Neuburger said. 'She mixed it up and hit different spots.'