The Lakers return one of the state's top setters and hope to be in the running for another league title this year

by: MATTHEW SHERMAN - Abby Gray returns to the Lakers for her senior season and is among the top setters in the state. Lake Oswego is off to a strong start with a five-set win over Jesuit under its belt already. Lake Oswego's volleyball team lost eight seniors from its team last year that made history by tying for the Three Rivers League title. But while the Lakers won't have quite the amount of depth they enjoyed last year, the players who are returning to this year's squad are among the best in the league which has Lake Oswego hoping for a repeat performance of last fall.

Much of the reason for optimism lies with the return of four-year starter Abby Gray for her senior season. Gray is among the top setters in the state and is the catalyst for the team's offense.

“She's very steady. Her ability to stay consistent is what sets her apart. She's a gem to have,” coach Christy Burnett said.

Lake Oswego returns another four-year varsity player in middle blocker Erika Treske, who will be a big target on offense and a big part of the team's defense with her blocking ability.

On the outside, sophomore Heather Pippus returns as one of the team's hardest hitters. Lake Oswego also picked up a transfer outside hitter in Taylor Beckman, who should make an immediate impact.

“I think a lot of our strength will be with our outsides. Both Heather and Taylor are very dynamic,” Burnett said.

Junior setter Natalie Zarosinksi and junior outside hitter Amy Sohlberg also return with varsity experience.

The Lakers are focusing on passing and team chemistry early in the season as the squad's new faces get acclimated to each other and vie for playing time.

“It's always about serving and passing. When those things get going is when you start seeing really good volleyball,” Burnett said.

Lake Oswego has already had a strong start to the season. The Lakers swept Sunset in their opener last week and, last Thursday, the Lakers held on for a five-set win at home against Jesuit.

The Lakers held a lead in the opening game 20-17 but gave up an 8-0 run to the Crusaders. Lake Oswego rallied behind some terrific defense to win the next two games 25-23.

Jesuit then responded with a dominant fourth game, winning 25-10 and seemingly took control of the match.

However, Lake Oswego hung tough and fended off match point in the final set, winning three straight points for a 16-14 victory.

“That was a really big W for us. We saw what can happen when we let up and I was proud of how the girls battled back,” Burnett said.

The Lakers take on two more strong Metro opponents before opening league play against West Linn.

“I think the level of competition is elevated in our league this year. Everyone is going to be contending. It's fun but you can't have a bad match,” Burnett said.

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