With yet another league title already in its pocket, there was no pressure on the West Linn volleyball team in Tuesday's match against 10th-ranked Lakeridge.
Consequently, the Lions and their coach were as lose as they've been all year. There was no lack of intensity, though, as the Lions shifted their focus to the preservation of their long unbeaten streak in league play.
That led to an easy 25-7, 25-15, 25-14 victory over a good Lakeridge team. It also stretched the Lions' league winning streak to 107 matches. West Linn won in such convincing fashion that the contest looked like a mismatch at times.
'They played pretty well,' West Linn coach Carl Neuburger said in agreement. 'They were pretty consistent and they anticipated a lot of things … and our passing was really good, and our three-ball transition was the best I've seen it in a long time.'
That's good news for all of those people who were worried about West Linn's three-ball transition.
'Three-ball is whenever Lakeridge gives us an easy ball. Then we run it hard at them. And I think that's as good as we've run it all year,' Neuburger said with a smirk as Lakeridge's easy-going coach, Wendy Stammer, stood within earshot.
Neuburger likes to kid around with people, but he was in rare form Tuesday night, mainly because his team made it easy to relax.
In the first game, it almost looked like Lakeridge was the team that was relaxing. The Pacers had trouble just getting good scoring opportunities in that set, and the Lions took advantage by reeling off one impressive kill after another.
Just about everyone played well in that first game, which included runs of 8-2, 7-2 and 10-0. Senior middle blocker Leah Bergstrom had seven points in that set, including three perfectly timed blocks.
It's interesting to note that Bergstrom scored as many points as the entire Lakeridge team had in that game, and four of the Pacers' points came on West Linn errors.
In addition to Bergstrom's fine play in that game, the Lions also got four kills from Brittney Beatty and three each from Michelle Hurt, Lacey Mannex and setter Kaitlan Locke. It was really apparent that things were going West Linn's way in that game when Locke turned a bad pass into a tip that no one could reach on the Lakeridge side of the net.
Lakeridge stepped up its game considerably in the next set, but it almost didn't matter as West Linn continued to score at will.
This time, Alyssa O'Neil played a starring role as she collected four kills during a short span while the Lions turned a 4-3 lead into a 13-5 advantage. After that, West Linn outscored the Pacers 11-7 to win another set going away.
For the game, O'Neil wound up with five points while Mannex and Hurt added four each and Bergstrom had three.
The final set was Lakeridge's best, thanks partly to the frontline play of Kathy Ciechanowski.
The last of her kills closed West Linn's lead to 15-12. But the Lions shut the door by outscoring Lakeridge 10-2 down the stretch.
Everyone for West Linn got to play in that game and sophomore middle blocker Caitlin McDonnell made the most of her opportunity with a pair of kills and Stephanie Hutchinson served up four straight winners late in the game.
Then, Lindsey Wickert and Jessica Johnston stepped up to score the game's final two points.
Early in that game, O'Neil had three kills that spurred an 8-1 run by the Lions. A short time later, O'Neil served three consecutive aces and each one had the Pacers making desperate dives just to get a finger on the ball.
Then it was Mannex' turn again as she scored five consecutive points to spot West Linn a 19-13 lead.
Lakeridge still had a glimmer of hope at that point, but West Linn took care of that matter by scoring seven of the game's final eight points.
'I thought everybody played really, really well,' Neuburger said. 'Torie (Bechtold) was excellent at the libero position. Lacey (Mannex) had a heck of a match hitting on the outside, Brittney (Beatty) was solid and Kaitlan (Locke) did a really good job of moving our hitters around and keeping everyone involved in the offense.
'It was a really nice ending to the league schedule and, for the senior night, it was a really nice night for the seniors,' the coach added.
It was the last league match ever for the team's five seniors - Beatty, Locke, Bergstrom, Bechtold and Mannex. Of course, they'll still get to play a home playoff match next week, and the Lions should be favored to win that contest, although it's guaranteed that Neuburger won't be comfortable until the Lions once again secure a spot at the eight-team state tournament at the University of Portland.
'I just don't know what I'm going to get from night to night against teams that we don't normally play,' the coach said. 'But, if they just play fast and loose (like they did against Lakeridge), they can beat anybody.'