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The top five West Linn sports stories of 2011

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO The West Linn girls golf team lived up to the highest expectations this spring, repeating as state champions and setting a state record with its score in the process.

West Linn High School's sports teams made plenty of news in 2011, a year that featured state championships, league titles and dramatic playoff runs.

Here are my selections for the top five sports stories (I cheated with six this year) of 2011.

5. (tie) West Linn's volleyball team earns another improbable league title.

In recent years, the Lions haven't been the unstoppable juggernaut in the Three Rivers League that they had been for the better part of a decade. However, no matter how hard they try, the team's rivals simply can't shake West Linn from atop the league standings.

The Lions shared the Three Rivers League crown with Clackamas last year and actually entered this season as somewhat of an underdog in the TRL for the first time in years.

West Linn's streak of winning at least a share of the league title appeared to be shattered when it lost a tough match to Lake Oswego late in the year.

However, the Lions picked up an easy victory in their last regular season match and then learned that Lake Oswego had been upset by Oregon City, leading to a three-way tie atop the league standings.

As luck would have it, West Linn would then take on Lake Oswego in the second round of the playoffs with a trip to the state tournament on the line and, in one of the program's most emotional matches of the past few years, the Lions ground out a four-set victory to make the state tournament for the second year in a row.

5. (tie) West Linn boys soccer wins league title.

West Linn may have entered the season as slight favorites to win this year's league title but the Lions knew that the road ahead of them was anything but easy.

The Lions got off to a 1-1-1 start in league before finding their stride and wouldn't lose again in the regular season.

That 5-0-1 streak would include a 2-1 victory over Lake Oswego and a 3-1 win over Clackamas which gave the team its first league crown in more than a decade.

West Linn was led by a strong senior class, including standout midfielder Hugo Rhoads who was one of the state's most electric players this year and won the league's player of the year honors.

4. West Linn girls lacrosse advances to semifinals.

The girls lacrosse program has been undergoing a steady resurgence in recent years and the Lions firmly announced their resurgence as one of the state's elite programs this spring.

The team battled to a tie for third place in what has always been the most brutal league in the state but the Lions were battle tested for the playoffs.

West Linn played exceptionally well in the clutch down the stretch.

In the team's playoff opener it knocked off Corvallis 12-10 on the road and then took on Liberty High School at Hillsboro Stadium, earning another 12-10 victory getting hat tricks from Mariah Gatti and Megan Longtain.

West Linn would then be upended by eventual state champion Lake Oswego in the semifinals.

3. West Linn boys basketball team makes the state tournament.

West Linn finished 6-9 in league last year in what was somewhat of a frustrating regular season.

But something started to click for West Linn late in the year. The team won two of its last three league games and then rolled in its play-in game against Redmond.

The Lions earned a No. 6 seed in the playoffs and traveled to David Douglas for their postseason opener.

West Linn used a 40-point flurry in the fourth quarter to be the only team in the state to score a first-round upset.

The Lions would then go one giant step further in the second round. West Linn took on league champion Lake Oswego, a team that had knocked the Lions off three times already, including a 19-point win on West Linn's home court a few weeks earlier.

But the Lions played with confidence on Lake Oswego's home court and Mario Shonkwiler picked the Lakers apart to score a stunning victory that sent West Linn into the state tournament.

2. West Linn ski and snowboard teams win state titles.

West Linn's talented boys snowboard team won the half-pipe and slopestyle events at this year's state competition to cruise to the overall team title.

The team's depth was tough to overcome as multiple riders took home top-10 finishes individually.

In skiing, West Linn's boys team took home the combined state title for the first time in school history and the boys and girls combined teams took third in state.

Stephan Splitstoser was the individual combined champion and won the state slalom title to pace the boys team while McKenzie Burns won the slalom, giant slalom and combined titles for an incredible sweep that helped pace the West Linn girls to fifth place overall.

1. West Linn girls golf repeats as state champions.

You couldn't have written a much better script for the Lions this season.

After winning last year's team championship the Lions were prohibitive favorites this year, returning Sharon Shin and Morgan Thompson and adding a pair of very talented freshmen to the mix.

West Linn was steady and consistent at Emerald Valley, taking the lead after the opening day of competition and extending it to win by 25 strokes.

In the process the Lions set a state record for lowest combined score.

West Linn also claimed the individual state championship. Two years ago Shin captured the crown but this spring it was Thompson's turn to shine.

Thompson was tied for the lead after the first day of competition with a 73 and didn't buckle under the pressure.

Thompson held the lead throughout the second day but Ashlee Pickerell made a strong late charge.

On the 18th green Thompson needed a tricky three-footer to clinch the individual title and drained it to cap a round of 71 that was good enough to win by one stroke.