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Volleyball team makes strides

Apparently, there is some hope for the other volleyball teams in the Three Rivers League.

To some of those teams, West Linn must look invincible. After all, the Lions haven't loss a league match since the middle of the 1999 season. And they haven't lost a single game to a league opponent since last year's first match against Putnam.

But it is possible to take a set from West Linn in a dual match. That happened last Thursday in a non-league match against West Salem.

For a while, it looked like West Linn might win the match in straight sets, even after struggling to win the first game. But the Lions trailed almost the entire third game before rallying for a 23-all tie. Then, the Titans came back to win the game 26-24.

West Linn bounced back and won the fourth set convincingly, giving the Lions a hard-earned four-set victory over a team that played as though a berth in the state tournament was at stake.

'Teams that play with a lot of passion and energy, sometimes we're not able to deal with it very well,' West Linn coach Carl Neuburger said.

The West Salem match uncovered some aspects of the Lions' game that needed some extra work, and Neuburger said he has already addressed those matters in practice.

The Lions then practiced hard for 90 minutes before Monday night's match at Milwaukie, which is winless in league play so far this year.

'And that (practice) was harder than anything we saw in that match,' said Neuburger, whose typical practice is more strenuous than the average college workout.

West Linn won that Milwaukie match 25-5, 25-7, 25-15, and in the process, the Lions might have set the tone for the rest of the season. That's good, because the next three weeks will be almost brutal.

The finishing run got underway on Wednesday with a match against Oregon City, a team that everyone in the TRL seems to be leery of. Then it's off to Bend on Saturday for the toughest tournament in the state, outside the state tourney.

Next week's slate features a match against Clackamas in which first place in league will be riding on the outcome. Then it's the league finale against Lakeridge, which has been anxiously awaiting the rematch with the Lions.

The best part is 'now we're playing all the tough ones at home,' Neuburger noted.

The home court won't make those matches much easier. But it's comforting being at home against good teams that desperately want to end West Linn's 103-match league winning streak.

Well aware of where they stand, the Lions are stepping up their efforts in order to stay unbeaten.

'They don't want to be the first ones to have a league loss,' Neuburger said of this year's West Linn team.

Eventually, West Linn probably will lose a league match, although it's uncertain what year that might be. Some people outside of the program figured this would be the year. Even Neuburger has been pleasantly surprised by his team's ability to keep winning.

At the beginning of the season, 'I didn't (think) we would be undefeated in league at this point,' he said.

But, just like last year, the Lions got off to a strong start by winning the Central Catholic jamboree against an extremely tough field. After that, Neuburger hasn't been surprised by his team's accomplishments.

But there's still some work to do, especially at the talent-laden weekend tournaments, like this week's journey to Bend.

In their last two tourney appearances (in Medford and Albany), the Lions have lost in the quarterfinals against Crook County - a team that has given West Linn plenty of problems over the last two years.

'They seem to have the answer for us now,' said Neuburger after his team had dominated Crook County in previous seasons.

Rather than focus too much attention on teams like Crook County, Neuburger is more concerned about finishing the league season strong, preferably unscathed.

'We're atop the league … I should be happy with that and I am,' the coach said.

'But the match against West Salem showed us what could happen … You just have to keep working hard and be better prepared than your opponent.'