There were a couple instances when Oregon City's volleyball team did things that were out of character and left Pioneers coach Leejay Lee scratching his head.
A mild case of first-game jitters?
Perhaps, but for the most part the Pioneers pushed aside any butterflies as they knocked off Centennial in straight sets, rolling to a 25-17, 25-12, 25-14 victory in the Mt. Hood Conference opener for both teams at Oregon City High School.
Oregon City's Madison McKenna finished with a game-high 17 assists, and Lauren Levi led a balanced attack with nine kills and two service aces as the Pioneers overwhelmed the younger, less-experienced Eagles.
"There were areas that we really excelled in and that are kind of becoming who we are, but there were some major areas that are usually stronger than they were tonight," Lee said. "First-game jitters, first-game nervousness … get it all out and always try to improve the next time."
Lee had no complaints with the Pioneers' scrappiness and serving, which helped them jump out to leads of 13-6 in the first set, 13-8 in the second, and 13-4 in the third -- leads that proved insurmountable.
"We scrapped for every ball," said Lee, who started a lineup with four seniors, one junior and a sophomore. "We got things up that maybe most people would expect. That's one of the tings we've been working on and we did that really well.
"Our serves definitely caught people off guard and got us some big points, so that was an area that I was really pleased with."
Centennial started three seniors and three sophomores, who played well in stretches, but struggled to sustain scoring runs and put any serious pressure on the Pioneers.
"For us, we are trying to manage our mistakes as best we possibly can, and through that gain some experience," Eagles coach Rob Olson said. "My big hitters are sophomores and it was nice to see some of them find the floor, especially Christina Rodriguez. If she gets her footwork down, she's going to be tremendous for us.
"Making sure that your big hitters get on track, that's going to be key. Then if they can provide some kind of blocking, that's going to be a big help for us as well."
Trailing 22-10 in the first set, Centennial went on a 7-1 run to climb within 23-17, but the Oregon City's Madison Hornback drilled a shot down the left side that went untouched and Levi followed with an ace to close out the set.
In the second set, the Eagles jumped out to a 6-3 lead -- their largest lead at any point in the match -- but the Pioneers went on a 6-0 run to go in front 9-6 and never looked back.
Oregon City then sat most of its starters in the third set, yet never trailing, but the set and match away when Olyvia Loutan's serve found an opening in between Centennial's Rhyan Becker and Crystal Tat for another ace.
"We all played really hard, went for every ball, and scrapped really well," said Levi, the Pioneers' senior outside hitter. "We can always improve and always play better, but I thought for our first game out we did really well."
Lee pointed to Oregon City's passing and setting as two areas that needed work.
"We passed really far off the net," Lee said. "We'd like the passes a little tighter, but because the passes were off the net, the sets were really far off and we were setting our hitters on the 8-foot line when we really want to get them up closer to that 5-, 4-foot line.
"Those two areas really are stronger in practice and I'm confident we'll improve as we go through."
For Centennial, Hannah Bowlen and Rodriguez finished with five kills each, and Angel Aluesi added four kills and three blocks.
"We're a new team in a new year," Eagles senior setter Erika Zuel said. "We have four new sophomores who are learning their way. They have a lot of potential, and I'm very happy to be able to set them my senior year. They have so much heart and so much drive, I can tell that they want it, every single point.
"It sounds cheesy and it sounds weird, but they're the new face of Centennial volleyball and I'm really excited to be a captain and be able to lead this team."
If only the Eagles had been able to cut down on some of their unforced errors.
"All credit to Oregon City," Olson said. "They came out and made a heck of a game of it. They controlled their mistakes very, very well. I don't know if that was their first game, but they looked like they were season ready, which is terrific for them.
"And hopefully we're going to get there soon. I don't know. Hopefully, we'll bring those younger kids along and see what happens. If the kids bring the energy, that's more than half the battle. But, again, it comes down to managing your mistakes, and we made too many."
Centennial is home Thursday to face defending 6A state champion Central Catholic, and then travels to Clackamas on Tuesday to take on the defending 6A runner-up Cavaliers.
Oregon City hits to road Thursday to take on Barlow, then returns home Tuesday for a match with Gresham.
"Tonight was a good opportunity get some people playing time," Lee said. "And Centennial was impressive. I thought they scrapped better than they've scrapped in the past, and they've got a couple hammers that once they figure out how to get it all together are going to be tough."