2021: Sports Year in Review

Photos by Zac Burtt/Siuslaw News, Cameron Jagoe/siuslawphotos.com and Becky Holbrook/beckdawgphotog.com

Jan. 4, 2022 — 2021 for sports fans started out quietly in the Siuslaw Region. COVID restrictions had shut down all high school sports for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year and Mapleton and Siuslaw High Schools waited with great anticipation for Oregon School Athletics Association (OSAA) to release guidelines for athletic competitions.

In late January, a sign of hope came when SHS Athletic Director Chris Johnson announced that the Viking football team would be the first local high school sports team to get on the field with a 7-on-7 exhibition football game versus Sweet Home with no spectators.

So began an odd, but very successful, year of high school sports in our area.

2021 Spring Season

In the spring, the teams from Siuslaw and Mapleton were given the chance to play shortened seasons for all sports.

Football — Siuslaw 3-3

In a season that no one knew for sure would happen until the last second, the Vikings managed to put together a .500 record on the year. A 54-12 Senior Night win over Sutherlin was the culmination of an up-and-down, but successful, season.

Siuslaw said goodbye to one of the greatest quarterbacks in Viking history with the graduation of Elijah Blankenship, who was named Special Division 2 North Division 1st Team quarterback for Spring 2021.

Football — Mapleton 3-2

The Sailors played what might be the school’s last season as an 8-man football team and finished 3-2.

The highlight of the season was the play of J.J. Neece, maybe the greatest player in MHS’s 8-man era. Neece would go on to play college football at Western Oregon University.

“In all the years I've coached, we have had some gifted football players,” said Bryan Moore, Mapleton assistant coach. “JJ is in that category. But as the years have gone on, it has been harder to coach because kids are different; they're not as passionate. A lot of them don’t even know the sport. But JJ knew the sport, and he was passionate about football. He wanted to play well and play hard and make the sacrifices that it takes to reach that level. And that's all him.” 

Also, Jeff Greene retired after 20 years as a Mapleton football coach, 14 of which he led the Sailors as head coach. 

Volleyball — Siuslaw 6-4

In a season of growth, the Viking volleyball team finished third in the Sky-Em League in the shortened spring 2021 season. Head Coach Ashlee Cole, who stepped down after her one and only season leading the Viks, was happy with what her team accomplished.

“You can't really ask for anything better than that,” said Cole. “Beating Marshfield twice, sweeping them in a season, and then beating Cottage Grove. It technically was a huge upset. But we knew we were better. We just had to prove it to them, and we prove it to ourselves.”

Volleyball — Mapleton 0-7

Between rolled ankles, concussions and illnesses, the Mapleton volleyball team faced a great deal of adversity in the spring 2021 season aside from the already difficult ramifications of COVID-19. In fact, the Sailors played their last match, versus Eddyville Charter, with only six players, meaning there were no substitutes to give anyone a break.

Cross Country — Siuslaw – State Champs

In what the OSAA called the “Culminating Week,” both the SHS boys and girls cross country teams took 4A state titles. Top finisher for the girls was junior Rylee Colton, who finished fifth, and top finisher for the boys was junior Chad Hughes, who placed eighth.

Soccer — Siuslaw 2-7

The Vikings won a remarkable two games in their first-ever varsity soccer season in Siuslaw High history. SHS shut out Elmira 4-0 on March 11 and beat Junction City on the road 4-3. Junior Jason Garcia was named first team all-league.

Girls Basketball — Siuslaw 2-9

The Vikings finished fifth in the COVID-shortened Sky-Em Season. Coach Ashlee Cole stepped down after the season. Seniors Lizbeth Garcia-Galvan, Brea Blankenship and Gracie Freudenthal were honored at the end of the season. 

Girls Basketball — Mapleton 0-7

The Sailors spring basketball season was a tough one. The team was forced to cancel four games for lack of players and, by the end of the season, some of the girls were playing with the boys team. Emily Wierichs was the lone senior on the team. This was Melissa Duffy’s last year as head coach of the Sailor girls team.

Boys Basketball — Siuslaw 8-6

The Viking boys basketball team said goodbye to six seniors: Jacob Foskett, Liam McClellan, Skyler Mattson, Clay Kramer, Tyrone Krohn and Skyler Loomis. Siuslaw started the season with a three game win streak then an up and down season saw the team never win or lose more than two straight games. SHS finished fourth in the Sky-Em League.

Boys Basketball — Mapleton 7-6

The Sailor boys basketball team finished fifth in the Mountain West League. Mapleton had win streaks of three and four games in the shortened season. Leading scorer for the Sailors was senior J.J. Neece.

Wrestling — Siuslaw – 6th at state

The star for the SHS girls wrestling team was junior Hayden Muller, who finished fourth at state. The boys team had a very successful season and finished sixth at the state meet.

“The way the kids rallied … this is the most amazing year I've ever had, and I've been coaching now for 34 years,” said Coach Neil Wartnik of the Siuslaw boys wrestling team’s performance at the 4A State Championship.

Coming into the state meet, Siuslaw’s highest seeded wrestler was fifth place, yet when the weekend was all said and done, six out of eight Viking grapplers finished sixth or better. This was a first time occurrence for the Siuslaw wrestling program.

Softball — Siuslaw 1-14

The spring 2021 softball season would be the last for longtime coach Sean O’Mara. The highlight of the season was the play of junior Bailey Overton, who was named first team all-state, the first ever such honor for a Viking softballer.

On May 15, Overton tied an Oregon all-time single game record by clubbing four home runs in four at-bats versus Junction City.

“Bailey performed an athletic feat unheard of on Friday,” said O’Mara. “I have never seen anything even close to this and have not talked to anyone over the entire weekend that has seen or heard of anything close to this in 4A high school softball — or at any level for that matter. I just can’t emphasize enough how incredibly difficult such an athletic feat is. I definitely felt privileged to be a part of it and honored to have witnessed such a phenomenal athletic explosion. Some of the athletes that play on my team, I’m not sure they have enough experience to understand what they just witnessed — but it was pretty amazing.”

Baseball — Siuslaw 1-14

After winning their first game of the season, 11-9 at Cottage Grove, hopes were high for the Viking baseball team. Sadly, that would be the only win of a season that included many close calls. Sophomore Ian Sissel was named Sky-Em League second team for the designated hitter position. Junior Jason Garcia and Senior Elijah Blankenship were both named honorable mention.

Track and Field — Siuslaw – State Champs

Because of the pandemic, the OSAA 4A state championships were held in Florence’s own Hans Peterson Field for spring 2021 instead of their traditional location at Hayward Field in Eugene. The Vikings could not have performed better for the home fans as both boys and girls teams brought home state titles. The individual highlight for the meet was senior Brea Blankenship’s victory in the 800 m.

Blankenship competed in both the 800 and 1500, making her win even more impressive.

“It’s tough to double as a distance runner,” said Chris Johnson, SHS head coach. “I said, ‘Brea, you’ve always doubled pretty well, and we have a shot, and I know that’s risky; it might make it harder for you to win the 800,’ which we thought she could, but she was all for it. I don’t think the 1500 worked out as well as she wanted it to,” he added, with Blankenship finishing seventh with a time of 5:09.54. “I think that maybe just made her mad. She came back and had a look on her face for the 800 that said, ‘I’m not going to lose.’”

Track and Field — Mapleton – 12th at state

The Sailors sent two athletes to the state meet in spring 2021. Senior J.J. Neece won the 1A javelin title and finished third in triple jump. Junior Joe Shepard finished sixth in the triple jump. MHS finished with 19 team points to finish 12th out of 34 teams.

Said Athletic Director Carrie Dean, “It was a good ending to the season! They did well and represented Mapleton well.”

Fall 2021 — the 2021-22 School Year

Things were back to a semblance of normal for the fall 2021 season. Siuslaw football, volleyball and cross country were all able to compete in a full season of events. Mapleton fielded a volleyball team but was forced to cancel its football season due to lack of players.

Football — Siuslaw 12-0 State Champs

In one of the greatest seasons in Siuslaw history, the Viking football team returned from the pandemic-shortened mediocre 3-3 spring season to go undefeated and bring home the OSAA 3A State Championship.

There were many season highlights.

On Sep. 17, smoke forced a relocation from Sisters to Bend and Caldera High’s brand new football field, where the Viks dismantled the Outlaws 50-0. On Oct. 1 SHS staged a comeback victory at home to beat defending state champs Cascade Christian 38-34. Oct. 14 saw senior wide receiver Braydon Thornton catch an Oregon single-game record seven touchdowns versus Pleasant Hill. In a battle for first place in the Special District 2 North Division, the Vikings staged the biggest comeback in program history and came from 26 points down to beat Junction City 41-40. Finally, Siuslaw and South Umpqua staged a defensive battle at Cottage Grove for the state title, where the Vikings came home victors 14-9.

Thornton was named 3A Offensive Player of the Year and his teammate and fellow senior Camp Lacouture was named 3A Defensive Player of the Year, the first time a Siuslaw athlete has won either award.

Cross Country — Siuslaw – State Champs

In a rare feat, the Siuslaw Viking cross country teams completed a sweep and took both the boys and girls 4A state titles at the OSAA 4A State Cross Country Championships at Lane Community College in Eugene. 

After finishing second behind Marist the weekend before at the district meet, Siuslaw surprised everyone but themselves by pulling off the upset and taking first place in the team race. Senior Rylee Colton was the top finisher for the Viking girls and finished fifth. The boys team came in the favorite and did not disappoint. SHS finished with 42 points, with Sisters being the next closest team with 88. Senior Chad Hughes took second in the race and junior Sam Ulrich was fourth.

Volleyball — Siuslaw 15-9

The Viking volleyball team had an outstanding fall 2021 season. Led by first-year head coach Kari Blake, Siuslaw finished tied for third place in a tough Sky-Em League. Siuslaw won their first two state playoff games, both on the road, to Banks and North Marion and finished eighth in the state. Junior Desi Tupua was named honorable mention all-state.

Volleyball — Mapleton 4-17

Seniors Opal Burruss, Brier Shird, Jahala Blake and Micayla Flansberg led a tough Sailor team all season. On Oct. 11, the Sailors had maybe their best night of the season when they swept a double header from Siletz Valley, taking both matches three games to one. In what is believed to be an all-time Mapleton single-match record, freshman Morgan Milbrett rained down an amazing 26 aces against the Warriors in the first match of the night.

Soccer — Siuslaw 1-13

In only its second season of existence, the Viking soccer program got steadily better as the season went on. In their one win of the fall, 4-1 over Creswell, freshman Ray Brito Xilot scored the first two goals of his high school soccer career. Senior captain Jason Garcia was named to the Sky-Em League first team.

For the winter 2021-22 season, things are almost back to normal. While spectators are still masked, athletes are no longer required to wear face coverings.

The Viking wrestling team is getting into shape and is preparing for its first home meet of the season on Jan. 6. The Mapleton and Siuslaw girls and boys basketball are finishing up the non-league portion of their schedule. The Vikings are preparing for Sky-Em league play while the Sailors are almost ready to begin the Mountain West portion of their schedule.

This will be the last year Siuslaw plays in its current division and conference, the 4A Sky-Em. Next year Siuslaw will move to 3A and become part of the Mountain Valley Conference with Harrisburg, Creswell, La Pine, Sisters, Elmira and Pleasant Hill. Mapleton will remain in the 1A Mountain West.