Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
The passing of another state tournament typically leaves a few areas of reflection, and this year's excursion to the Rose Garden proved no different.
South Medford's boys and girls basketball teams advanced together to the final eight-team site for the third straight year, with the Panther girls making their second straight appearance in the state title game while the Panther boys again suffered an 0-2 fate in Portland.
Here's more on their weekend trip.
THE GOOD: The biggest impact South Medford may have had during the state tournament was off the court, where the school earned another Sportsmanship Trophy for the Class 6A girls tournament. Of considerable note here is that no school's community base is farther away than South Medford's and, yet, the energy and emotion provided by the Panther band, cheerleaders, students and families was notable at every South game.
At every session, beginning with the boys' opening game on Wednesday night to their Thursday morning confrontation and the girls' night games that followed, South's following just seemed to grow and the excitement level continued to build. That's not necessarily the case for the Portland-area teams, who draw hundreds of supporters so long as they have a chance at a state title but almost nothing when they fall into the consolation bracket.
When the Panther boys were ousted prior to the girls' first game, they found themselves among an energetic student section for the South girls — as the girl team members had been for their games.
Whether it was laughter-inducing goat sounds to heckle free-throw shooters to roaring support of big plays by the South girls, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for all things involving the Panthers at the Rose Garden.
THE BAD: South Medford's girls team had hopes of defending its first-ever state championship earned one year ago but never seemed to catch fire like the Panthers did in 2012, when they stormed through three games at the state tourney.
The biggest issue South Medford faced was a lack of offensive punch despite entering the tourney averaging a state-best 74.4 points per game. In Portland, the Panthers managed only 46.3 points per game on 35-percent shooting (51-for-144).
The biggest void in South Medford's offense was the ability to connect from 3-point range despite boasting some of the state's top perimeter threats in senior Kylie Towry and sophomore Andee Ritter. The Panthers only made 10 of 46 shots beyond the arc (22 percent) and no more than four in a game after going 4-for-17 against St. Mary's Academy, 4-for-15 against Tigard and 2-for-14 against Central Catholic.
The numbers weren't much better even when there was no defense to contend with. South Medford converted only 60 percent of its free throws (27-for-45) to finish seventh among the eight teams at state.
"We didn't shoot very well up here and that didn't help," South Medford head coach Tom Cole said after Saturday's 57-36 finals loss to the Rams.
THE UGLY: The on-court referees are tasked with such a challenge once the level of play reaches the final eight, and there's no denying their desire to do the best they possibly can, but a few issues have become notable over the years in the difference in officiating at the final site from games in southern Oregon.
Three areas stick out more than anything else: There truly is no such thing as over-the-back at the state tourney, almost no attention is paid to footwork in the post and the physicality in which teams are allowed to play with greatly increases.
At this point, though, that's the norm when it comes to state-tournament play, and it's up to the players to adjust to the way the game is called more than the officials having to adjust to what teams are accustomed to.
"Sometimes you do worry, 'Can we play with these guys up here,' because it's just so different, I don't know what to do," South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy said after his team was eliminated following a second straight close game on Thursday. "It's so hard for us to adjust. But one of my favorite things to say, and it's the truth, is we've just got to figure out a way to get better."
South Medford senior point guard Adrian Garcia said it's a factor that the Panthers, or anyone locally, will have to incorporate into their mindset for future years.
"We just need to remember how they play up here because that's not how the Southern Oregon Conference is played," said Garcia. "We need to get stronger and more physical and be more ready to handle whatever the other teams are doing."
THE GOOD, PART II: The South Medford girls defensive play rivaled any in the state. The Panthers led the state tourney with 14 steals per game, most notably due to the efforts of Ritter and senior Yaremi Mejia, and allowed a tourney-low 42 points per game.
Losing Mejia, Towry and Luisa Tago will cut into South Medford's effectiveness on both ends of the court, but the Panthers are optimistic that a fourth straight trip to the state tournament could be in order in 2013-14.
"I think we're ready for next year," said South Medford junior Ashley Bolston, who will have to take on a more aggressive role for her team to return. "We're losing three seniors but we've got a solid three still (Bolston, Ritter, Julissa Tago) along with Keyari (Sleezer) and Jasmin (Falls) and the other younger players. We should be pretty good."
FOR THE RECORD: Central Catholic seniors Kailee Johnson and Jordan Reynolds were unanimous first-team selections and were joined on the top group by Towry, Oregon City senior Jo Paine and, as a surprise due to her team's 0-2 record, St. Mary's Academy sophomore Martina McCowan.
Mejia was joined on the second team by Bolston, Westview junior Jaime Nared, Beaverton junior Danielle Hartzog and Oregon City senior Montana Walters.
On the boys side, unanimous first-team selections went to Lake Oswego senior Calvin Hermanson and Central Catholic senior Austin Dyer, while West Linn juniors Hayden Coppedge and Ryan Shearmire were on the top list with Central Catholic senior Mitchell Franz.
The second team included Central Catholic sophomore Deante Strickland, West Linn sophomore Anthony Mathis, Lake Oswego senior Connor Griffin, Sunset junior Tyler Gutierrez and Jesuit senior Khyan Rayner. Jesuit earned the Sportsmanship Trophy for the 6A boys tournament.
Final tournament attendance was 25,796.
The high was 5,810 for the championship finals session and lows in the mid-400s for the third- and fourth-place finals.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry