Top Sports Stories of 2019


A look back through the calendar as we revisit the top sports stories from 2019

Viks Bowling shines at district

“Siuslaw Sweeps District Titles”

Jan. 30, 2019 — The regular season for the Lady Vikings and Vikings bowling team came to an exciting finish over the weekend as they both competed at the Holiday Bowl in the District 4 championship tournament.

The Lady Vikings started things off on Saturday, bowling to defend their 2018 district tournament title. Siuslaw started out slow, but improved its position to the second seed, making its way to the finals against Cottage Grove. The Viks lost the first match but rallied in the second with the overall pin-count, advancing to the championship match.

The Lady Vikings started out strong, this time winning the first game 152-109, taking a 43-pin lead heading into the final game against North Bend. The deficit proved too much for the Lady Bulldogs as they fell 300-246 — with the Lady Vikings defending their district title.

In the boys’ tournament, 11 teams competed for the district championship on Sunday. Siuslaw was looking to get back to the state championship after missing out last year. In the 20-game qualifiers, the Vikings kept a steady pace by bowling very consistently throughout, finishing the fourth seed.

For the semifinals, after the 10-game seeding round, Siuslaw managed to make the top three, finishing as the No. 2 seed heading into the semifinals behind rival North Bend, and third-place Marshfield. The Vikings faced Marshfield in a two-game series in the opening match of the championship round. Siuslaw took the first, Marshfield the second. In the tie-breaking match, the Vikings claimed the District 4 title to complete a Siuslaw sweep.

At state, Vik bowlers finished eighth overall.

Cheerleading coach Diane Conlee retirees, Teri Straley steps in

“One last cheer/SHS cheerleaders aim high for new season”

Feb. 23, 2019 — During Siuslaw High School’s final home basketball game, one individual whose presence and influence within Siuslaw’s athletics programs has spanned more than three decades made her final appearance. For many in the stands, Vikings cheerleading coach Diane Conlee has been the silent but constant embodiment of Siuslaw spirit for their entire lives — in some cases, in the lives of their children as well.

For someone whose beginnings with the program occurred by mere happenstance back in the mid 1980s, Conlee’s dedication as a coach and mentor has become legendary. By 1995, she had already coached squads to three state championships — in 1991, 1992 and 1993 — and taken teams to the Aloha Bowl and Pro Bowl.

Over the years, her squads placed second at state competition three times, had three third-place finishes at state and made two trips to national competition.

“Cheerleaders represent Siuslaw High School in and out of uniform at games, assemblies, community service events, and as role models while interacting with students at the elementary school,” Conlee said. “Every team is different with different talents, skills and personalities and work ethic. What we achieve is directly related to the goals each team sets. I feel like it has been my job to provide them with the opportunity, material, support and time. “But ultimately, they are the ones who make it happen.”

For that reason, Conlee said she sees the opportunity to coach cheerleading as more than just teaching performance fundamentals related to competition; it is also about character building for future success.

“I truly believe that cheerleading, like all sports, gives athletes a chance to gain self-confidence, leadership skills, responsibility and how to work together with others to accomplish goals,” said Conlee. “Many of the cheerleaders I’ve coached have gone on to work in professions that teach and help others in schools and communities.

Later in the summer, Teri Straley would take over the program from Conlee.

“Cheerleading is important to me because I feel we really are the spirit and the unity of the school and the community,” she said. “No matter if you’re winning or losing, we’re smiling and cheering and always encouraging our team. We really strive to create that leadership and unity within the school by always encouraging people to go to the games and the fundraisers — just participate in any way they can.”

After meeting with Conlee and discussing how her legacy should be continued and what more could be done, Straley was all-in for taking over the program — especially because of what cheerleading did for her as a person, helping her grow and mature.

“It made me more outgoing as a person,” Straley said. “I used to be afraid, but now I’m not afraid to stand out in a crowd. I’m not afraid to let my thoughts be heard. [Cheerleading] has helped me realize that I have a voice and I’m going to speak it. It makes my ideas clear and makes me feel that I can be a leader in some way. That’s why it’s important.”

 Viks dominate at State Track and Field

“Siuslaw claims three state titles”

May 22, 2019 — Seven Siuslaw athletes stepped centerstage at the 4A State Track & Field meet at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, where three Vikings brought home individual state titles — and six others placed among the top 10 in seven other events.

Two of Siuslaw's athletes, juniors Ryan Rendon-Padilla and Hannah Rannow, were each defending state titles, in the javelin and 800 meters, respectively.

While Rendon-Padilla was able to hold his 4A boys javelin title with a throw of 186-11, Rannow placed second in the 800-meter race (21:21.43). However, that didn’t mean she didn't come home with gold. Rannow, who also ran a leg on the fourth-place 4x400-meter relay team, smoked the competition in the 3,000-meter race, running a personal record of 10:14.30 for the individual state title.

In the 300-meter hurdles, sophomore Gracie Freudenthal continued her dominion in the event, winning the state title with a PR time of 45.64, which earned her the gold and also a new school record. Freudenthal also ran a season-best time of 15.74 in the 100 hurdles for fourth place, and joined senior Naomi Shoji, sophomore Brea Blankenship and Rannow for the state meet's fourth-fastest time at 4:07.89.

Overall, the Siuslaw girls placed fifth as a team and just 1 point away from fourth-place North Valley. Hidden Valley won the team title (97). The boys placed 18th in team scoring, with Newport (65) taking the team trophy. All-State all seven Siuslaw athletes received All-State recognition.

 Smith resigns from Viking football helm

Former students take the reigns

June 5, 2019 — After more than 50 years of stability under the helm of just two coaches — Len Lutero and Tim Dodson — the Siuslaw football program has seen two different coaches in the last two years.

Now, there’s a third (as yet unnamed) on the horizon for this fall with the resignation of head coach Chad Smith on Monday. By that afternoon, the position had been posted online with an application deadline set for this Friday — a four-day turnaround that underscores the notion that Smith resignation was unexpected.

Yesterday, assistant coaches Bob Teter and Jerry Fleming held an informational meeting for players during lunch to explain the new schedule for summer workouts and answer players’ questions.

“We were caught off guard but right now we want the players to know there’s a plan for the summer to prepare for fall,” said Teter prior to the meeting.

Though specifics for Smith’s sudden resignation weren’t given, a statement released on the program’s Facebook page explained that “the program at SHS is moving in another direction” and that “A varsity head coach is no easy task, with challenges coming from all directions.

“We thank coach Smith for all his hard work, his dedication and efforts to improving the lives of his players and for his passion for the game of football.”

Prior to Siuslaw, Smith had been head coach at LaGrande (2014), leading the team to the state play-offs, and also for a season at Seaside (2016).

Prior to Smith, the Viks had been coached by Jamin Pool from 2016 through 2017, picking up the program from Dodson, who retired in 2015 after a 6-3 season and run at a state play-off berth.

Smith, who also coached the girls basketball team in 2018, was replaced by two Florence natives — both of whom played for the Vikings during their senior years.

For basketball, Siuslaw graduate Ashlee Cole took over the helm.

“Basketball is pure sport — and I’m really good at understanding sports,” she said. “I just pick it up. I don’t know what it is about it. I really understand the ins and out of sports. Playing it growing up and coming into high school, it was already a second nature.”

As for her approach to coaching, Cole was focusing on instilling the basics.

“Winning is important, but right now the girls need to have fun in the game. We’re still going to focus on winning, but having fun is the main mindset. … “They’re making it fun for themselves, and I’m going to build on that.”

Replacing Smith on the football field was coach and Siuslaw alumni Sam Johnson, who was able to take the Vikings to the playoffs in his first season last year.

“From birth until 18, all I wanted to do was play for Siuslaw and be on that football team,” Johnson said last summer before the team’s first game. “Football is bred in this town. That’s what we have. Not a lot of towns are like this anymore and it is kind of a time warp. But this town is football.”

As for the measure of success for football, Johnson pointed to the future.

“The real measure of success will come when the members of the 2019 Siuslaw football team are 40 years old. Are they doing a good job raising their kids and loving their wife or husband? Are they doing a good job being a citizen of the world? Are they representing this town well? Not many people remember who won which state football championships,” said Johnson. “But they’ll remember the kid who grew up and went on to become the governor, or a great teacher or business owner. If they do things the right way in the next 20 years, and I have a tiny part of getting them there, that will be where I get joy and success from.”

 JJ Neece and Hannah Rannow

“Athletes of the Year”

 June 8, 2019 — Students from both Siuslaw and Mapleton were named the “2019 Athletes of the Year” by KCST, starting with Sailor JJ Neece.

John “JJ” Neece appears unassuming in casual conversation. But once the uniform comes on — be it football, basketball or track — his athletic spirit is relentless.

In football, the Mapleton sophomore was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, a notion underscored by the 483 yards he racked up in a single game — primarily from the quarterback pocket.

Neece also was named First Team All-League as a linebacker.

On the hardwood, Neece was the team’s leading scorer and an all-league honoree who was every opposing team’s worst nightmare on both ends of the court.

Last spring, Neece moved into track and field, where he advanced to state in four events after winning the 100 meters, long jump and triple jump, and placing second in the javelin. At state, Neece placed fourth in both the javelin and 100 meters, and was seventh in the triple jump.

Along the way, he was KCST’s Athlete of the Week five times.

Despite such outstanding individual performance, Neece said the biggest lesson he has learned from athletics has been “that a team is more important than yourself, and that leadership and sacrifice are how you get places as a unit.”

When not competing, Neece enjoys more artistic endeavors, where he has earned “Outstanding Achievement” nods in both Language Arts and Drama.

Heading into his junior year next, Neece has plenty of time to decide on what he wants for his future — as well as time to set more personal and school records as a three-sport athlete. But much like his unassuming personality, he says he sees a future in either the NFL or archeology. Whichever direction he takes, he will surely break new ground.

Viking junior Hannah Rannow was also honored. She is a young woman who likes to accomplish firsts — and did so this year in extraordinary fashion.

In addition to becoming the first Lady Viking to win the 3,000-meter 4A women’s state title, the Siuslaw junior beat her own PR in that event as well as in the 800-meter race, placing second at state after winning the title as a sophomore last season.

If that wasn’t enough, Rannow broke the school record in the mile (5:13.44) last fall, finishing second at district and state individually during cross country.

When not running, Rannow is a member of the National Honor Society, yearbook and Interact Club while carrying a cumulative 4.0 GPA — earning her five awards during Siuslaw’s recent Evening of Excellence.

“I’ve learned how to strengthen my mind and will to battle the pain and thoughts telling me to give up when it gets tough,” Rannow said of what she’s learned from athletics. “It’s given me confidence, life-long friendships and a chance to work toward meaningful goals.”

Though she still has one more season as a Lady Viking, Rannow said her long-term goal is to have a career (possibly in the medical field), a good support system and healthy lifestyle.

Just three days after being named the Athlete of the Year, Rannow was in Portland for the elite Portland Track Festival High Performance Meet at Lewis and Clark College.

She ran the 1500-meter race in a time of 4 minutes, 44.36 seconds. The time was the 12th-fastest of the day in a field of 16 elite female runners — and the second-fastest girls’ time in Siuslaw High School history. Her time was less than three seconds off the school record set by Siuslaw alumni Raelyn Robinson in 2010 during the Jesuit Twilight Relays (4:42.62).

Rannow’s previous personal best in the event was 4:50.75, set this past May during the Wally Ciochetti Invitational in Cottage Grove.

 Mapleton looks to rebuild its sports program by starting early

“Building athletic momentum in Mapleton”

June 22, 2019 — Soon-to-be fifth grader Jack is still trying to figure out if he likes basketball.

“I like that it’s hit or miss,” he said. “It’s a hit or miss thing. When you hit it, if it feels good when you shoot the ball.”

But missing isn’t a problem.

“It feels encouraging to do it more,” he said. “Basketball can be fun, even if you’re just practicing drills.

Jack had been doing drills for the past three hours at the newly established Mapleton School District Basketball Camp, which had 35 kids register, equal to one-fifth of the entire Mapleton Elementary School program.

“We’re rebuilding the basketball program,” said Mapleton High School science teacher Lou Burruss, who organized the camp. “The school is new and beautiful. We also want the programs, and what we offer to kids, to be equally great.”

The Mapleton basketball program has had tough times as of late. It went through 57 straight losses before it finally won two games this year. The boys’ program has been more up and down.

“This year, they lost a handful of games by a basket or two. It was really close, and if it had gone the other way — they would have gone to state. But they’re still in the process of building a long-term sustainable program.”

Youth sports camps, the kinds that focus on instilling sports ethics in elementary-aged students, had been absent from Mapleton for more than 20 years.

“For a long time, if you were a kid who wanted to play basketball, there was no organized basketball until you were a sixth grader,” Burruss said. “That’s really late to build skills and love for the game. There may have been individual kids who had an older brother to play with, but in terms of getting a whole group of kids excited and talented? That was challenging.”

Football coach Jeff Greene noticed the same trend. “To like sports, you’ve got to develop it early. If you don’t have that, and you get these kids up in middle school and high school, there’s no desire.”

And the summer program is building that desire.

“It’s my favorite sport,” first grader Tinsley said, wanting to play on the high school team when she grows up. “You have to spin the ball when you shoot,” she said, lifting her arm up and tilting her hand. Perfect form for Mapleton’s athletic future.

 America’s first sandboarding park moves its location after two decades

“Mastering the Sand”

 July 2, 2019 — “The key is to funnel as much air underneath the board as possible, and you do that by keeping your weight on the back foot so your tip is up,” Sand Master Park owner Lon Beale said. “In snowboarding, you get your weight forward to drive speed, but on sand, that takes a vacuum. Once you get up to 10-15 miles per hour, you’re riding on air. If you watch it in slow motion, it’s about an inch of air underneath the board. That’s probably the biggest factor to riding the board. As far as making the boards perform? I would say the base material is the most critical. It has to be something that’s harder than the sand. Otherwise, the sand is going to grip it and slow it down.”

Beale and his team have been getting the U.S., and the entire world, on the right foot of sandboarding for decades. Sand Master Park was the very first sandboarding park in the U.S. when it opened in 2000 and has since become a mainstay for tourists in Florence.

“The busiest day we’ve ever had was about 500 people,” Beale said. “But I would say, typically, it would be about 150 average, and we’re probably 300 a day during the summer. Yearly, about 20,000.”

Beale’s goal is to further expand the areas interest in sandboarding.

“This is my motive: To benefit as many people as we can with what we have to offer,” Beale said. “We want to do a good job and make sure everybody has a great experience. They enjoy sandboarding and they love it. They want to turn their friends on to it. It’s healthy, it’s enviro-friendly, it’s inexpensive. There’s nothing bad to say about it.”

Last year, the owners of the property Sand Master Park is located on made the decision to build tract housing on the site. Beale was eventually able to find a place just a few lots south of the original park, next to Fred Meyer in Florence.

“The location is fantastic,” he said. “We’ve started developing that. It’s quite an effort because it’s been 19 years at our location. There’s a lot of stuff. We’re trying to whittle things down to our necessities to get to our new location. It’s not as big as we like, but we’re able to expand. We expect to double our size next year as needed.”

The biggest change will be Beale’s move to bring full sandboard manufacturing to the area. “If we actually had an automated press, we could make them at a comparable price to the big board press companies,” he said. “And that’s what we want to do here — we want it to make sense for us to do 6,000 boards a year, rather than contract it out.”

But his main focus will still be on ensuring guests of Sand Master Park have the best experience possible.

“If you want to just have fun, don’t worry about it. Just take a board and have fun,” said Beale. “If you want to learn to sandboard, take a lesson. My instructors are all certified. Most of them are current or former national champions. When they’re that good, we hire them. Of course, when they work there every day, they get good anyway. But we take individuals out, all the way up to groups of 180, and teach them to sandboard. They always have a good experience.”

“SHS Hall of Fame inducts Class of 2019”

Aug. 14, 2019 — The Siuslaw High School Hall of Fame held its ninth-annual induction ceremony, with five individuals and four teams receiving honors for 2019: Scott Parker (1981), Andy Rodet (1992), Bruce Plaep (1972), Raelyn Robinson (2010), Caley Nordahl (2001), the boys 4x100-meter relay teams for 1996 and 1997 and the 1997 girls 4x100 relay state championship team.

“If this was the very first year of the Siuslaw Hall of Fame, and you look at the inductees we have tonight, it’s unbelievable,” said Siuslaw’s Athletic Director and Hall of Fame Chairman Chris Johnson.

1972 alumni Bruce Plaep, the three-sport athlete who played football, basketball and track, in which he still holds the record for shot put (51-1), was the first to be honored.

“Forty-seven years ago — 17,250 days ago — I threw that throw,” Plaep said. “I’m really shocked to see that it’s still standing, especially with some of these bigger kids that have gone through. ... I’m honored and thank you very much.”

Scott Parker, who was a standout on Siuslaw’s 1981 2A championship football team, was the next inductee.

“To be recognized with the past, the present and the future hall of famers is quite an honor,” Parker said, before thanking his parents, his offensive linemen and receivers, and then the coaches. “I’ve been privileged to be with such great people … Thank you to everybody, and I’m humbled.”

Former track coach Gary Giddons introduced Andy Rodet (1992), who won state titles in both the long jump (21-8.5) and the triple jump (45-1) his senior year.

“The triple jump is the hardest event in track and field to master,” Giddons said. “[Andy] had the most amazing jumping skills I had ever seen. I think he’s part kangaroo.”

Rodet was brief in his acceptance, saying, “Congratulations to all the inductees here tonight, former inductees, and thanks for my folks for being here.”

Caley Nordahl, a three-sport athlete who excelled at volleyball, basketball and track was introduced by Johnson. Nordahl graduated holding the school record in the triple jump (35-0) and still holds the second-best mark in the high jump (5-4).

“I know I wasn’t the easiest kid to coach or to teach. In the educational field we call that ‘oppositional defiance,’” Nordahl said in her acceptance speech. “But I appreciate all my teachers and all my coaches and SHS for accepting me for who I was. I was on the basketball team where there was a rule of, ‘If you cussed or were messing around, you had to run laps.’ I was probably in the best shape of my life that season. I ran so many laps.”

Raelyn Robinson won state titles in cross country and the 1500-meter race in track and field. She still holds the school record in the 1500-meters and at one time held the records in the 800, 1500, 3000 and 5000 in cross country.

Robinson thanked her family for the recognition, saying, “It’s an honor to be inducted. My grandpa was inducted, my uncle was inducted, my mom’s 1984 team was inducted — you could say it’s in my blood. Thank you to everyone for inducting me when I’m in my 20s when I still know how to run.”

Finally, Giddons introduced the team honorees, beginning with the 4x100-meter state champion relay teams for 1996 and 1997.

“It was a unique group that really meshed together and stayed the same for two solid years, and I think that was amazing,” Giddons said of the team, which consisted of Teola Wilkins, Kirsten Daniel, McKenzie McMullen and Alisa Worley. “Maybe we weren’t as fast as others individually, but we were an awesome relay. When I think back to the great runs of 400 relays, I think personality wise, they were my favorite group.”

As for the 1996 boys state champion 4x100 relay team, which consisted of Jeremy Long, Tristan Hartzell, David Richmond and Matt Pearson. Giddons said, “I couldn’t be prouder of four guys than that.”

As for the 1997 team, which included Pearson, Richmond, Aaron Long and John Jensen, Giddons said, “It was the greatest season I’ve ever coached. It didn’t matter that we ended up being state champions that year, it didn’t matter that we had a lot of great individuals. It was just the attitude of the team.”

The evening closed with Master of Ceremonies Bob Sneddon honoring Ben Voogd and Jesse Schutte, who had to defer the award to 2020 due to conflicting engagements — Voogd is coaching in China, and Schutte is playing in a professional golf tournament.

“The ins and outs of building a soccer program”

Sept. 14, 2019 — Weeks before Siuslaw’s fledgling soccer team finished its season with a perfect run, coach Londi Tomaro discussed why the game was important.

“Soccer is more like a jazz solo,” she said. “They’re just going off the cuff, just playing. They’re not following anything off the musical sheet. It’s kind of the same. You have a set idea of what you’re doing, but you have to make things work in that specific situation.”

Tomaro was talking about her approach to coaching the pilot soccer program at Siuslaw High School, which had won its first two games of the season.

“That was very, very exciting,” Tomaro said of the win. “We didn’t win any games last year, and it was really exciting to win.”

But more exciting for Tomaro was how the students played together on the team.

“When I put every substitute in, they made plays on the field and worked as a team with everybody else,” she said. “That was just really fantastic to see. They’re on the bench, they’re joking with each other, they’re cheering each other on. And then they get out there on the field and they’re making plays with everybody else.”

That speaks to Tomaro’s approach to coaching soccer, “especially because we’re building a program,” she said. “We’re not at a place where people are competing for slots on a team. Maybe down the road our program will be at that place. But that’s not where we are right now.”

Instead, Tomaro is focusing on building good players.

“Just because somebody who comes out is not a starter, or a power player right now, doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential with a little work,” she said. “I don’t want those kids to be discouraged and stop playing. It’s really important to me that they’re a team.”

And it’s that philosophy that is driving Tomaro’s approach to coaching the team. When reading up on soccer coaching styles, she realized that coaching soccer isn’t about the plays.

“When the game starts, the coaches have a lot less influence on what actually happens out there on the field,” she said. “We don’t call plays. We put the kids in position, but then it’s up to them to make things work on the field.”

Soccer abhors a micromanaging coach.

“If you’re waiting for me to see what’s happening on the field, and tell you where to go, you’re going to be too late,” Tomaro said. “You have to see what’s happening on the field and go where you need to go. And then you’ll be there at the right time.”

So instead of drafting strong plays, Tomaro works on building strong players.

“I think a large part of my job is training them to trust each other,” she said. “For them to be a team and enjoy each other, which leads to trusting each other on the field. That’s where our program will succeed. Soccer teams fall apart when a player doesn’t trust their teammates, and thinks they have to do their job for them. They’re then not in their own position to do their own job. They all play their spots, they do their jobs, they trust their teammates to do their job.

“That’s when it all works together.”

“Siuslaw sweeps Sky-Em”

Nov. 2, 2019 — Siuslaw swept the 4A Sky-Em District Championships in the team division last fall, with both boys and girls teams taking the win and qualifying for state.

Four runners also made the cut for individual state runs, while other runners handily beat personal records in the race.

“It was exciting,” cross country head coach Chris Johnson said. “To beat both the Marist teams, which are defending state champions, we knew we had our work cut out for us. The kids executed the game plan and we squeaked out of couple victories.”

The race was dominated by Junction City harrier Anika Thompson, who held a clear lead throughout and took first. But on her heels was the Viking senior Hannah Rannow, who maintained a comfortable second.

The real nucleus for Siuslaw was the combination of Rylee Colton, Brea Blankenship and Gracie Freudenthal, who remained in a tight group from the beginning.

“It’s nice when it works out the way,” Johnson said. “If you have a teammate to lean on, it can help. Obviously, everybody is running their own individual race to their own individual limits, but there’s some comfort in having some teammates around. It’s just a solid lineup. They’re tough. You can see it on their faces, they’re just tough girls that are fun to coach.”

But with half a mile to go, the three were on the bottom half of the top eight, with three Marist runners right behind Rannow.

“I yelled at Riley [Colton], Brea [Blankenship] and Gracie [Freudenthal] that they if they could get in front of Marist’s third girl, we’re going to win the meet,” Johnson recalled. “And the girls started to pull away and Rylee reeled her in and passed her. That was a key moment.”

Colton ended up in fifth place, beating out Marist’s fourth runner, who was followed by Blankenship and Freudenthal, respectively. Marist took ninth, and Siuslaw senior Chloe Madden finished out the top 10, giving the Viks a 1-point win (32-33) over Marist.

For the boys’ team, Johnson felt that a Siuslaw win was more of a sure bet going into the meet.

“Marist ran really well, better than I expected them to run,” he said. “But I felt like our boys were the favorite going in. And they ended up running — by far — their best race of the year.”

Like the girls’ race, the team win came down to the last minute.

Brendon Jensen had the lead over all the other Viks runners but couldn’t seem to get past runners from Marist, Cottage Grove and Marshfield, who ended up taking the top three. At that point, it became a team race, with Jensen and Sam Ulrich trying to beat two Marist runners who were in fourth and fifth place.

“Sam came up and they just keyed off each other,” Johnson recalled. “They were behind Marist’s third guy. If Marist has three guys in front of our first, we’re not going to win. It’s almost impossible. But they just came through. They passed three and reeled in two and that was it. That was the 1-point victory.”

Jensen came in fourth and Ulrich fifth, with Kiger Johnson and Kyle Hughes taking 8th and 9th, respectively, in the top 10 and giving Siuslaw the win, 37-38.

At the state meet the following week, the Lady Viks took second, while the boys placed sixth.

 Siuslaw football makes it to playoffs

“Much more than a ‘rebuilding’ season”

Nov. 16, 2019 — Before last Friday’s playoff game against Hidden Valley, Siuslaw Football coach Sam Johnson gathered his players around.

“When you’re walking out to the field, I want you to think of everything you’ve done to get yourselves to this point,’” he said. “All the hard work you’ve put in. Buying in when you didn’t have to, working hard when other teams were taking days off. I want you to think about going from the laughingstock of the state to being one of the final 16 teams playing. That’s a really neat deal, and never take that for granted. This could be our final walk down as a team together. Let’s hope that it’s not. But if it is, make sure that you say what you need to say to these guys, and leave everything out on the field.’”

It ended up being the final walk on the field for the 2019 roster of the Vikings. They ended up losing 12-40. Johnson said that though they may have ended the season rough, it was a good year.

After the summer jamboree, Johnson made some bold statements, including telling Exploding Whale Sports editor Stan Pusieski that he fully expected the team to win every game they were going to play in.

“I think a lot of people laughed at that statement,” Johnson said. “But if you don’t expect to win every game as a head coach, your players aren’t going to fully expect to win every game. And if you don’t fully expect to win every game, then I don’t know why the heck you’re playing football.”

After a close loss to Elmia, Johnson fear the kids would buy out.

“Monday shows up, and I thought some kids were going to buy out,” he said. “But they were more focused, more determined to get the first win. It was always like that. After every obstacle, they showed up on Monday, ready to get after it even more. And there aren’t very many teams like that.”

With a newfound focus, the Viks faced Philomath, bringing home a 28-19 win that Johnson calls the highlight of the season.

“Seeing the light finally clicking on, the joy that was in their eyes. ‘Holy smokes, if we do the right thing and practice, and stick around with each other, we’re going to win some football teams.’”

All of a sudden, they were a quality club.

“And we got used to winning, which is what Siuslaw is supposed to do,” Johnson said. “We’re supposed to be used to winning and be there. We’re supposed to have more wins than losses every year. And now we did, and that was a real nice thing for the boys to experience. That kind of Siuslaw football. Now we’re going to have expectations. We’re going to embrace that. It was kind of cool to see them go from nine straight losses to just being able to win pretty consistently.”

Despite suffering two losses, the Viks secured a playoff spot, but were eliminated in the first rounds. They were’ disappointed. For the final huddle, Johnson said it more tears than anything else.

“More than anything, I think the thing I wanted them to know was how incredibly proud I was,” Johnson said. “As a ball boy, football player and now a coach, there’s no team that I’d rather be a part of than this one. These kids went through more adversity than any team that I had been a part of. They just embraced it, took it in stride, and grew from it. I wanted them to be sure that they needed to be proud of themselves, and understand that this whole community, the town and especially our coaching staff, is incredibly proud of them.”

 “Sailors reflect on standout season, what’s ahead”

Nov. 16, 2019 — “We talked about pressure,” Mapleton Football coach Jeff Greene said about his speech against state playoff opponent Camas Valley. “Whenever you have pressure, it means you’re doing something right. You are successful. The thing is, embrace it. That’s a good thing. They’re there for a reason — because they’re a good football team. Whenever you’re going to get a post-season opportunity, there’s always pressure to perform. That’s what a winner is. A winner goes through that pressure and adversity and gets it done.”

Greene’s voice swelled with pride.

“That’s what these kids are, they’re winners, man,” he said. “And I’m really proud of them. Seventeen years without going to state. We just talked about enjoying the moment. If they go out there and play their hardest, it doesn’t matter what happens.”

The Sailors played their hardest against Camas Valley, but Mapleton ended up losing, 50-86. Still, the loss was overshadowed with pride on how they performed all year. It had been 17 years is a chance for the Sailors to play under November night lights, though they came close more than once. Starting in 2015, they made the league playoffs three years straight, but they just couldn’t close the deal.

“If these kids played together, bought in and worked hard, we knew the talent was there,” he said. “I just don’t think they realized how good they could be. When you play together, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”

Their first non-jamboree game was at home versus Riddle. It only took 16 seconds for the Sailors to show their dominance, after Cody Soverns ran the ball 49 yards into the endzone.  

“When you talk about coming out fast and being ready to go, especially on offense, I feel like we accomplished that on the first play,” Greene said at the time. “We had 30 points in the first quarter. When those kids are ready to go, it’s exciting to watch.”

They won the game 52-12. The next week, another home game, this time welcoming Chiloquin. Again, they scored early, the blares of the Mapleton Fire Department’s engine echoing through the canyon. The score was 48-0 at the end of the second quarter.

Then it was Siletz Valley, 62-20, followed by a win over Elkton, 52-6; the Sailors were on an unprecedented roll.

But as the wins were stacking up, so were the injuries. The team started the season with a roster of 15, but the number of eligible players began to dwindle. The roster fluctuated from 13, to 11, then 12 when the Sailors faced Lowell, which was defending a near-perfect season.

The Sailors’ small team coupled with the strong play of the Devils saw Mapleton lose its first game. By the time their next game rolled around, the roster was looking dire.

Against North Douglas, Mapleton only had seven players to finish the game.

“Most teams wouldn’t have been able to do what we did to survive all the issues,” said Greene. “It’s incredible that they went as far as they did. That’s a tribute to those kids, counting on freshmen at times to help us win games.”

Despite having a skeleton crew, the Sailors kept the North Douglas game from being a blowout, a final score of 20-36. When the Sailors faced off against Perrydale, the adversity began taking its toll. There was a slew of penalties, some earned, some not.

The loss forced them to play one of the best ranked teams in the state for their first playoff, at Camas Valley. At the end of the game, Greene talked with team about the adversity they had gone through, how hard they worked to get to this moment.

“They’re going to remember that for the rest of their lives. And they had a lot of fun with it,” said Greene. “They enjoyed the moment that they were in. And that’s what we talked about. Leaving it all on the field. If you do that, you have nothing to have regrets about.”

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