West Linn returns just three starters from last year but the Lions don't expect to experience a down year

by: VERN UYETAKE - Caitilin O'Neil returns to the Lions this year and should be one of the top players in the league if not the state. She will move over from outside hitter to middle blocker this season.The West Linn volleyball team is entering the season without a lot of experience, returning just three starters from last year's squad. But the Lions have proven that it would be unwise to ever overlook them.

West Linn's streak of earning at least a share of the Three Rivers League title remains intact after a late-season loss by Lake Oswego helped the Lions tie for first place last season.

And the team hopes to battle for another title this year in an exceptionally balanced league.

West Linn returns Caitlin O'Neil up front as she moves from the outside to the middle blocker position.

“She's the heart and soul of the team. People are going to key on her,” coach Carl Neuberger said.

Emmalee Scheid is also back, making the transition from libero to setter this year. And Shawna Erickson returns and will be one of the offense's important targets on the outside.

“I'm teaching a little more this year. The team has to adjust to the speed of the game and its decision-making,” Neuberger said.

The battle for the starting libero position will be between Leah Beyer and Courtney Misner, a sophomore transfer and Emily Johnson will play alongside O'Neil in the middle as well as freshman Elle Dyrdahl.

On the outside, Brianna Dyrdahl and Emma Jones will both get their opportunities.

“It's going to boil down to consistency for us,” Neuberger said.

The Lions figure to be a difficult team to beat once again, particularly when the team's newer players get more match experience.

In early matches this year, the team has been thrust into the fire quickly.

At last weekend's Central Catholic Tournament, the Lions played the defending state champion Rams in pool play. West Linn was beaten badly in the first game and Neuberger opted to play just his inexperienced players in the second game.

The team rose to the challenge and battled to a hard-fought 25-22 loss.

“We're competitively inexperienced but I think they'll improve a lot and give people fits,” Neuberger said.

The Lions will open up league play next week against Lake Oswego.

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