With only three weeks remaining in the regular season, teams are busy positioning themselves for the playoffs — and nowhere is that more important than at the Class 5A level.
To their credit, 5A officials revamped an obviously flawed playoff qualification system last year that separated the state in northern and southern sections and didn't necessarily protect the ideal that the best teams should advance.
In the current system, only the top 24 teams in the final power rankings qualify for the postseason, with the top eight teams receiving automatic berths in the playoffs and team Nos. 9-24 facing play-in contests to reach the final 16-team bracket. Team No. 9 will host No. 24, No. 10 will host No. 23 and so on.
The only caveat to the system is that any league champions not ranked in the top 24 will take the place of the bottom teams. Also, there will be an attempt to avoid teams from the same league competing in the play-in round and adjustments will also be made to accommodate a 250-mile travel limit.
In the case of the football, volleyball and boys and girls soccer teams at Ashland and Eagle Point, these next three weeks leading up to the power rankings freeze date will be vital. The rankings freeze at midnight on Oct. 25 for volleyball and at midnight on Oct. 27 for the remaining sports.
Only two teams are outside the postseason cutoff, with Ashland's girls soccer team ranked 26th and Eagle Point's boys soccer team ranked 30th, but each has enough chances left to move into the playoff picture.
While getting in is a concern, holding onto their current position is just as great for several teams at Ashland and Eagle Point.
The Eagles have two teams ranked just inside the cutoff point at No. 22 (volleyball and girls soccer). Eagle Point's football team is 19th, despite showing enough competitive ability that the Eagles were in the top 10 of The Associated Press rankings for one-third of the season.
Interestingly, in the Midwestern League football standings, Eagles (3-3, 1-3 MWL) sit two games behind Churchill (5-1, 3-1) but are two spots ahead of the Lancers in the power rankings.
The football Eagles may have to win out to maintain their hold on a postseason opportunity, with two of their final three opponents slotted behind them in the power rankings (No. 23 Marshfield and No. 30 Willamette). The other opponent is Ashland, which is ranked 11th in the power rankings and could lead to a rather important regular season finale for both teams on Oct. 26 since the Grizzlies also have Marshfield and Willamette left on their schedule.
Ashland doesn't have a realistic shot at one of the top eight slots in football, which provide automatic entry into the state playoffs, but a 3-0 finish could go far in giving the Grizzlies the best possible play-in opportunity at home, where Ashland (3-3, 2-2) is undefeated this season.
In volleyball, Ashland stands 18th while the boys soccer team is 11th and has the best chance of moving into the top eight should the Grizzlies come through with some key nonleague wins. Ashland's best chance to make a move in boys soccer begins today against North Medford and includes dates with South Medford and Grants Pass, who each are among the top six in the 6A power rankings.
CASCADE CHRISTIAN'S FOOTBALL team improved to 7-0 on Monday without having to make a single play.
The Challengers were slated to hit the road Friday and play Creswell but they learned Monday that Creswell would be forfeiting the contest.
"They just didn't think they had the numbers needed to play us," said Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman on Monday. "They contacted us a little last week saying their numbers were down due to a high number of injuries and today they just told us that they can't go (on Friday)."
The forfeit victory moves Cascade Christian to 7-0 overall and gives it two weeks to prepare for Illinois Valley in the Challengers' Southern Cascade Hybrid opener.
"It's no good but we've got to take it and move on," said Gettman, whose team went through the same situation last year with a forfeit by Rogue River. "We'll just take it and use maybe a little extra rest and time to get better overall as a program."
In terms of the Class 3A power rankings, the forfeit will count the same as if the Challengers had played for the road victory.
Creswell, of the PacWest Conference, will fall to 2-5 with its fifth straight loss. Blanchet Catholic beat Creswell 43-15 in last Friday's contest.
AARON GHIGLIERI EARNED even more acclaim for his stellar prep swimming career recently when the 2012 Cascade Christian graduate became the only southern Oregonian on USA Swimming's Scholastic All-America team.
Ghiglieri, who currently is part of the University of Michigan swim program, was one of 18 boys and eight girls in Oregon to meet the criteria,
The All-America team is made up of high school student-athletes who have a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher and who have achieved the required time standard in a single event.
To be eligible for this recognition, swimmers must have completed 10th, 11th or 12th grade and be a USA Swimming member athlete. This year, 1,226 student-athletes made the grade.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry