The West Linn volleyball team moved within one match of wrapping up another Three Rivers League title after registering an emphatic three-set victory over second-place Clackamas on Tuesday.
The win proved that West Linn, which remained unbeaten in league play at 10-0, can pump itself up for an important league match. However, such a claim would have been questioned last Wednesday when the Lions were fortunate to escape with a victory over upset-minded Oregon City.
Amazingly, West Linn came out flat for Oregon City, which, in 1999, was the last TRL team to beat West Linn. The Pioneers, on the other hand, were probably more pumped up than any team West Linn has faced this season. So, it's not surprising that danger was lurking on the horizon.
Sure enough, Oregon City won two of the first three games. West Linn then rallied nicely to win the match in five sets; although the nail-biting fifth set, which ended 15-13, could have gone either way.
In retrospect, that near loss was probably a good lesson learned for the Lions. It certainly helped them turn up the emotion in Tuesday's crucial match against once-beaten Clackamas.
'That's as emotional of a match as we've played all year,' West Linn coach Carl Neuburger said after his team's impressive 25-19, 25-18, 25-16 victory, which raised the Lions' league winning streak to 105 matches.
'I didn't know what I was going to get (on Tuesday), especially after going five games and nearly losing at Oregon City.'
In some respects, Tuesday's match was a mirror image of West Linn's victory at Clackamas during the first half of the season. In the first match, the Lions barely squeaked out a first-set decision and then had a slightly easier time in the next two sets.
This time, the first set could have gone either way as West Linn scratched its way to a 20-18 lead. But the Lions outscored Clackamas 5-1 down the stretch and the main reason was junior middle blocker Michelle Hurt, who was responsible for four of her team's final five points.
Her spree started with a kill that gave West Linn a 21-18 lead. After Clackamas scored to again narrow the deficit to two, Hurt followed with a tip to make the lead three.
Then, Hurt blocked Clackamas' all-star middle blocker Beth Hanna to make it 23-19. A Clackamas error added another point to West Linn's side and the run ended when Hurt teamed with Alyssa O'Neil on a block that ended the game.
'Michelle had a really good night blocking, a really big night,' Neuburger said.
The second game see-sawed back and forth with 10 ties en route to a 15-15 tie. Aside from two kills by Leah Bergstrom and a couple of service winners by Kellie Kawasaki, most of West Linn's scoring during that stretch was done by Clackamas as the Cavs committed a string of unforced errors.
But the rest of the set turned into the Bergstrom and O'Neil show.
They had six points each during a streak of seven unanswered points, which essentially put the game away at 22-15. Moments later, O'Neil finished off the set with another kill.
Bergstrom and O'Neil also started strong in the third set, but their two points each only helped the Lions to a 7-7 tie.
Then came a run of five straight points, which included kills by Hurt, O'Neil and Kawasaki, plus a pair of Clackamas errors. That gave the Lions a lead (at 12-7) that they never relinquished.
West Linn then put the game, and the match, away with a 12-5 finishing run. That featured consecutive kills by O'Neil.
Then Bergstrom ended the match with a pair of points, including a hard-hit spike that landed inside the 10-foot line.
'Leah had a really strong match from top to bottom,' Neuburger said afterward.
The Lions also got a good match from senior setter Kaitlan Locke, whose perfectly-placed sets made for some easy kills by her teammates.
'Kaitlan (Locke) did a really nice job of distributing the ball and keeping everyone involved,' the coach added.
With two league matches remaining, West Linn holds a two-match lead over Clackamas (8-2). That meant Tuesday night was essentially for the league championship, but Neuburger said there's still some work left to do.
'We have to take care of business against Putnam on Thursday, and then nobody can catch us,' the coach said.
It's highly unlikely that West Linn would lose to Putnam, but a lot of people were probably thinking the same thing before the Oregon City match last week.
'That was a case of (Oregon City) being pumped so sky high that everything they touched, no matter whether they were in a bad position or not, was a great up,' Neuburger said in disbelief.
'They played defense out of their ever-loving minds. And we came in with no emotion, thinking we were going to beat them as handily as we beat them the first time. And that wasn't the case.'