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Boys lacrosse team runs into stellar opponents

by: Vern Uyetake, The Lions’ Neil Parikh, right, winds up for a pass as a Lakeridge defender looks on during Tuesday’s 17-5 loss to Lakeridge. West Linn fell behind 11-0 against the defending state champions but rallied in the second half.

If you only pay attention to final scores, it appeared as though the West Linn boys lacrosse team had a miserable time during the last week.

Granted, the Lions went 0-3 during that stretch. But those losses came against possibly the three best teams in the state - Lakeridge, Oregon Episcopal School and Lincoln.

Depending on whom you talk to, West Linn probably wasn't favored to win any of those games. But the Lions played well enough that coach Mark Flood believes his young team could be a serious threat once the playoffs roll around.

Either way, West Linn could be under-estimated by future opponents after the Lions' 17-5 loss to two-time defending state champion Lakeridge on Tuesday.

After that contest, the Pacers appear to be the clear favorites to win this year's state title. They might even be the best team in the Northwest. So, even though Tuesday's loss was of the lopsided nature, no one in the West Linn camp appeared demoralized.

In fact, it was quite the opposite. The Lions never stopped hustling, even after they fell behind 11-0.

After that near-disastrous start, the Lions actually dominated the game for a stretch while scoring three unanswered goals. By the end, Flood found it hard to complain about his team's effort against a Lakeridge club that looks good enough to play at the college level.

'Their starting lineup is as tough to cover as I've ever seen,' Flood said after watching Lakeridge come at his team in waves.

And it wasn't just the Pacers' relentless rush that made them tough to defend. Virtually every one of their starting offensive players could be the star on any other team in the state.

At times, it seemed nearly impossible to defend them.

'This might be the best team I've ever seen,' Flood added.

Yet, while the goals piled up for the Pacers, West Linn continued to play hard, as if the score was still 0-0.

'Everybody went hard together and had each other's backs. There was a little bit of a letdown (early), but it wasn't like we were letting them do what they wanted,' Flood said.

It would have been understandable if the Lions had started hanging their heads during the first half when the Pacers were scoring a goal approximately every two minutes. That refusal to quit paid off early in the third period when the Lions scored three goals in a two-minute stretch to trim Lakeridge's advantage to 11-3.

Those three goals (the first by Jeff Janoff and the last two by Xander Waibel), were the result of some nifty passing and some well-timed cuts to the net. The last of those three goals, which was set up by Ryan Janoff's pass from behind the net, had Lakeridge's defense looking as though it was lost.

Unfortunately, that mini-run might have upset Lakeridge, because the Pacers responded with four unanswered goals of their own, which pushed their lead to 15-3.

But West Linn came back with two goals early in the fourth period. The first one came on a hard shot by Eddy O'Mara from the left wing. And Spencer Smith wrapped up West Linn's scoring when he netted a shot in a man-up situation.

Those last two goals were important for West Linn because Lake Oswego, another highly-ranked team, managed only three goals in a lopsided loss to the Pacers last Friday. The two extra points West Linn gained in the league standings could be crucial as the season winds down.

Meanwhile, it was fitting that Jeff Janoff got his team's first goal Tuesday night. His all-around hustle helped inspire his teammates.

That convinced Flood to award his young midfielder the game ball for the night. Janoff, who also serves as the team's stand-up comedian, hammed it up a little bit after getting the game ball.

'I did this all for the team,' he said. 'What else can I say? The whole purpose is for West Linn lacrosse, so I put my heart and soul out on the field … People need to know that's why I play the game - for the love of my team.'

With all giggling aside, the feeling seemed to be mutual.