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Injury-plagued Lions back into share of TRL title

by: MATTHEW SHERMAN West Linn’s Caroline MacAusland and Caitlin O’Neil go up for a block in last week’s five-set loss to Lake Oswego.

The fight for the Three Rivers League volleyball title appeared like it would fittingly come down to a match between the two teams who managed to separated themselves in the crowded and talented standings.

Lake Oswego and West Linn entered last week's match as the two hottest teams in the league. The Lions had won five straight league matches while Lake Oswego was riding a four-game streak with its last loss coming in five sets to the Lions.

On Thursday the Lakers found themselves with a chance to not only erase a 12-year league losing streak to West Linn but also in a match with the league title on the line.

It was a match destined to go to five sets again but, in the fifth and decisive frame, the Lakers were too tough, handing West Linn the loss 18-25 25-21, 25-22, 16-25, 15-4.

Then on Tuesday West Linn caught a break as Oregon City's five-set win over Lake Oswego made for a three-way tie for the league title between West Linn, Lake Oswego and Clackamas, marking the second year in a row that the Lions have ended the regular season tied atop the standings.

"We were in a position where we controlled our own destiny but then we needed someone else to take care of their business which is never a situation you want to be in. It's probably the most convoluted way to end up as a league champion I can ever remember," West Linn coach Carl Neuberger said.

West Linn jumped out to an early lead in the game, capitalizing on hitting errors by the Lakers.

The Lions' hitters were more consistent at the net in the early going and built an 18-11 lead after strong serving from Emmalee Scheid.

Lake Oswego managed to creep back into the first set but a big block by Caitlin O'Neil was followed by a kill from Maria Green and a service winner from Brittany Westover.

A service winner by Shawna Erickson then closed out the first set.

The Lions led early in the second set as well on strong serving by Erickson but Lake Oswego rallied with four straight points.

The Lakers held a slim lead for much of the set but back-to-back kills by O'Neil cut the lead to 22-19.

However, Lake Oswego recorded a side-out and then a costly serving error by the Lions allowed the Lakers to tie the match.

West Linn had another slim lead early in the third set before Lake Oswego tied the match at 10-10.

Two serving errors down the stretch doomed the Lions again as Lake Oswego took the game 25-22.

But West Linn wasn't finished. The Lions jumped out to another early lead in the fourth set and then, leading 15-12, went on a huge run after getting some solid serving from Aubrey Pesicka.

West Linn won seven of the next eight points and seemed to have momentum heading into the fifth set.

While the Lions had gotten off to a strong start in each of the four previous sets, it was the Lakers who took control in the fifth and never looked back.

West Linn won the first point of the final frame on an O'Neil kill but Lake Oswego won the next five points.

They would rattle off another five straight after a side-out by the Lions and rolled to a 15-4 win.

West Linn will enter the playoffs as the walking wounded. O'Neil, who injured her shoulder in a collision in a tournament in Bend is now out for the year while Pesicka and Westover are both nursing ankle injuries.

The Lions needed big contributions from the entire team to fend off a fired up Canby team on Tuesday, falling in the first game before rallying for the victory.

"It was a character builder. Canby always seems fired up to play us," Neuberger said.

Green and MacAusland each stepped up in the middle for West Linn, combining for 29 kills and MacAusland added five late service winners to the effort.

There was plenty of good competition and exciting matches at the annual West Linn Invitational over the weekend.

Central Catholic won the tournament in a good match against Clackamas. West Linn beat Reynolds and McMinnville and fell to Aloha in its pool but still advanced to the Gold Division.

The Lions were then bounced in the first-round of bracket play, falling in straight sets to Crook County.

West Linn will open its playoff run next week but its first opponent is still to be determined.