Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
As far as competitive Black & Blue fall matchups go, few have it over the soccer games between North and South Medford high schools.
One goal has decided nine of the past 12 meetings between the girls programs and six of the past 12 for the boys, with each gender playing to one tie in that time frame.
Today offers the first chance this season to see the Black Tornado and Panthers face off against one another, with the boys game set for 4 p.m. at Hoffbuhr Field on the campus of North Medford High and the girls game at 6 p.m. on the field at South Medford High.
In the case of the boys, conference championship position has been on the line in recent years when they square off and that's no different this time around. North and South each sit atop the Southern Oregon Hybrid standings at 3-0, and each team enters the contest undefeated overall with the Panthers at 7-0 and Black Tornado at 6-0-1.
"It should be a good battle, I'm really excited about it," said North Medford head coach Michael Belzberg. "I think the boys have been talking about it for a while and we finally get to play them, so that's part of it, but I just think it should really be a good match."
South Medford swept the series last year en route to the SOH championship, while North won once and battled to a scoreless tie with the Panthers in a 2010 season that saw the Black Tornado and Panthers tie for the league title.
One of the Medford teams has either won or finished second in the conference in all but one season since 2006, and in 2009, the Panthers advanced to the Class 6A state championship game.
Even when North Medford went winless in conference play in 2009, South Medford was only able to net 3-1 and 2-1 victories.
"No matter where either one of our programs is sitting, regarding if you're rebuilding or having a down year or whatever, if I was a betting man I wouldn't put money on those games," said South Medford head coach Dave Kaufman. "There's too many variables to say which way it goes. There's a lot of underlying meaning to it for a variety of reasons. It's a crosstown rivalry but a lot of the boys play with each other in the offseason so there's some rivalry but also a lot of bragging rights on the line there."
Today's game also will be the first time Belzberg finds himself in the Black Tornado's corner. He was the starting goalkeeper for South Medford's 2003 state championship squad.
"I like South 363 days a year, all except for those two days we play them," he said.
Today's contest offers an intriguing test since the teams bring different philosophies into the match.
"They're heavy on offense and we're heavy on defense so we'll see how that matchup works out," said Belzberg, whose team has outscored its foes 14-4.
In contrast, South Medford has outscored its opponents 31-6 in the same number of games against almost exactly the same teams.
"I anticipate it to be a barnburner," said Kaufman. "They've been pretty stingy with giving up goals, but I anticipate we have the personnel that we could find the back of the net, so we'll just have to see what the outcome may be."
Providing the Panthers' scoring push have been seniors Humberto Alvarez and Felipe Sanchez, who have been adept at finding the net for themselves and their teammates.
"They get a lot of guys in scoring position and that really helps spread the load," said Kaufman.
Seniors Greg Rapet and Greg Alegria and sophomores Uriel Cordoba and Logan Artner have also provided a scoring touch for South Medford, with juniors Colt Sauers and Jeff Turner helping stir up the attack.
Defensively, the Panthers have been led by the Cabrera brothers — senior Jose and sophomore Rene — and senior Luis Ayala, with Adrian Calvillo and Caleb Wright providing quality matchup options where needed.
In goal, freshman Hunter Soper has gained the support and trust of his teammates and continues to develop each game.
For the Black Tornado, goalkeeper Joe Siordia has provided senior leadership. Senior Jose Mendoza and juniors Luis Michelon and Cole Owings have also been integral in keeping teams at bay, along with junior stopper Benito Torres.
Offensively, senior Leonardo Alonzo has combined with juniors Christian Siordia, Garrett Byrd and Ryan Hogan to help capitalize on as many scoring opportunities as possible.
"It's kind of been spread out, we've had a lot of guys on the scoring sheet," said Belzberg. "I'm coaching them as hard as they can go. I feel like they all have a lot of talent and are finally starting to believe in themselves."
South Medford has gone 8-3-1 against North Medford in the past 12 meetings but five of those wins were by one goal.
On the girls side, North Medford has enjoyed the best of the past dozen matchups, going 9-2-1 since 2006 but only two of those wins were by multiple goals. South Medford's last win came in 2008, a 1-0 triumph at home, but the teams did battle to a 3-all tie last season as one of only two marks against the SOH champion Black Tornado.
North Medford (5-2, 3-0 SOH) carries a one-game conference advantage into today's matchup and is loaded with a blend of talented veterans and newcomers.
Junior Amanda Hisey is an offensive outburst waiting to happen and is afforded tremendous support from senior Kimmy Parker and sophomores Sydney Thomas and Halley Folsom. North has outscored opponents 31-15.
Defensively, junior McKensie Ragan has provided a stabilizing force for first-year head coach Emily Miller, who was a North Medford assistant coach the past three seasons.
South Medford (4-2-1, 1-1-1) has its own goal-scoring phenom in senior Megan Kapp, who owns two hat tricks, and a seasoned goalkeeper in senior Lindsey Namanny. Sophomore Brittney Jensen has also helped spark the offense.
Defense has been the key thus far for the Panthers, who have three shutouts in seven games and allowed only one goal in three other contests. Sophomore twins Larissa and Desiree Lakin and senior midfielder Sarah Kapple have helped key the effort to keep opponents out of the Panthers' zone for head coach Chris Hollewijn.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry