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Pacer netters search for formula vs. Lions

It seems like it's been forever since West Linn lost a volleyball match in the Three Rivers League. But West Linn coach Carl Neuberger would be the first to say that the TRL is stronger now than ever before.

A good example would be the fact that Lakeridge, the third-place team in the TRL, is ranked No. 9 in the state.

The problem is, the Pacers continue to have their problems with the third-ranked Lions, as last week's straight-sets loss to West Linn would attest. It was a humbling experience, especially since the Pacers were so fired up heading into the match. Maybe they were too fired up.

'It was a learning experience for all my girls,' Lakeridge coach Wendy Stammer said. 'They got so amped up for that first game. Then they got down a few points, then it was more than a few points.'

As the Pacers discovered last Thursday, beating West Linn is never easy. Neuberger's teams are always so disciplined that they beat themselves and they seldom get out-played. Plus, when the Lions' defense is clicking, it's hard just to score points on them.

'We can be that kind of a team, too - a team that digs out everything. We just have to believe it,' Stammer said.

For the record, West Linn hasn't lost a league match since the middle of the 1999 season. Now, other league teams are so eager to beat the Lions that they forget about almost everything else.

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

Even with the lopsided loss, the Pacers still had some individual efforts that stood out. Especially impressive was the play of middle blocker Kathy Ciechanowski. She had two memorable hits over a double block and both of her spikes bounced off the line that is 10 feet from the net, showing that both shots went almost straight down.

Jenny Bistolas also played well on the front line and Taylor Horton was equally strong on the back line.

One of West Linn's strengths lies with its outside hitters and it was no exception in the Lakeridge match. Realizing she needed an extra blocker on the front line, Stammer inserted freshman Lexi Ross into the lineup midway through the first game. Ross played well enough that Stammer left her in through the next two games.

Stammer also likes the way her three middle blockers have playing as a unit. Ciechanowski, Julie Irvine and Kristen McNairy are 'almost interchangeable,' Stammer said. Sometimes the coach even plays them together, especially Ciechanowski and Irvine.

Certainly, the Pacers have all of the ingredients to be a really good team this season. In fact, they beat seventh-ranked Clackamas two weeks ago in the Lakeridge tournament. That was a redemption, of sorts, for Lakeridge's loss at Clackamas the week before.

'In the tournament, we were back to our normal selves,' Stammer said.

If anything, the Pacers just need to be more consistent with their play, and they have to do a better job of communicating on the court.

'I have a lot of good athletes,' the coach said. 'The only problem is we get too quiet on the court.'

Lakeridge will get another shot at Clackamas tonight in a crucial match on the Pacers' home court. If Lakeridge wins that contest, it will leave the two teams tied for second place in the TRL. If they stay that way through the remainder of the season, a coin flip will be held to determine the league's No. 2 representative in the state playoffs.

Of course, Lakeridge could settle the argument by themselves, but it would probably take beating West Linn in the rematch to do it.

'Don't count us out against West Linn,' Stammer said.

'I think if any team in our league comes out hard, they could give (West Linn) a good match.'