Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Sarah Kapple's best days as a runner should be in front of her.
And they'll happen in the sunny climate of San Diego.
"It'll be really nice to run in the sun instead of the rain," she laughed.
The South Medford senior is one of four local athletes who recently signed letters of intent to continue their athletic careers in college.
Kapple is headed to the University of San Diego, an NCAA Division I school in the West Coast Conference, to compete in cross country and track and field. She and two other South Medford students — Camden Stemple and Luisa Tago — signed letters during a ceremony Thursday at the school.
Stemple, a distance runner, is headed to Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., and Tago, who has been a mainstay in the remarkable success enjoyed by the Panthers girls basketball team, signed with Metropolitan State University in Denver.
Adams and Metro State are in the NCAA Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Phoenix softball standout Meranda Zanni signed a letter earlier this week to play for St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, N.C.
Kapple is a middle-distance runner, specializing in the 800 and 1,500 meters, who has yet to fully tap into her potential because running has been a part-time sport for her in high school.
While many distance runners do cross country in the fall and track in the spring, Kapple spent her autumns on the soccer pitch for the Panthers.
"I've always played soccer, so I was really thankful when the coach (Will Guarino) still took me on," said Kapple. "Even though I haven't run cross country, it seems like it's a lot of fun. I'm really excited to get the opportunity."
She hopes to try the 3,000-meter steeplechase in college, which requires runners to hurdle barriers and run through water pits.
With her soccer background, "I really like the agility part of that added to it. It's a combination of agility and long-distance running, which I like."
One of Kapple's assets is her speed. She's run all of the sprints — 100, 200 and 400 — and has had legs on both the short and long relays. Once she adds a distance base through cross country, her times figure to improve substantially.
"When she gets there and cranks into the training," said South Medford coach Mark Losinski, "she should be able to run much faster than she has in high school."
Kapple's best time in the 800 is 2:21.30, achieved at the Crater Rotary Classic last weekend. Her 1,500 best of 4:48.73 came at last season's district meet.
Stemple, like Kapple, has plenty to look forward to in the college ranks.
The longer the distance, the better suited he is for it, said Losinski.
"He's probably one of the most fit kids I've ever seen at the high school level," said the coach. "He'll be able to move up in the distances. His fitness is going to allow him to run the 5,000 and 10,000. That kid can run forever. He's put in more training than most kids."
Stemple comes from a running family. His father, Scott, is the Panthers' distance coach.
The younger Stemple has run a variety of distances from 3,000 — his best event — on down. His personal best in the 3,000 is 9:02.80.
Yet to be determined for Stemple, said Losinski, is what his best distance will be.
"You can tell when he finishes the 3,000, he could probably run 10 more laps," said Losinski. "It's just too short for him."
Tago helped South Medford to its best seasons the past two years.
The 5-foot-10 guard/forward was a second-team all-Southern Oregon Hybrid selection as a senior after averaging 6.9 points, 3.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and nearly two steals per game. With her playing an integral role, the Panthers went undefeated and won the 6A state championship in 2012 and made it back to the title game this year before falling.
South Medford's record for the two seasons was 54-5.
Tago wasn't at the top of the Panthers' statistical categories, but versatility was her trademark, said coach Tom Cole, who labeled her "the glue on our team" the last several years.
"She does so many things really well," he said. "She's solid in every aspect of the game. She's a great rebounder and one of the best, if not the best, defenders. The Metro State coach loved her work ethic and that she's so diverse in terms of position. She can play guard and forward and defend both those positions."
Tago attracted interest from Metro State head coach Tanya Haave, and coaches at other schools, during a fall tournament in California designed to give college coaches a chance to see players, said Cole.
Zanni will be traveling the farthest, hooking up with the NCAA Division II Falcons of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Both a top-notch pitcher and hitter, Zanni figures to do both for St. Augustine's, which has all but one player back next year from a team that just completed its best season in a decade. The Falcons went 17-12-1 — their first winning season since 2003 — and placed fourth in the CIAA tournament.
Zanni has played five positions this season for Phoenix, said her father and coach, Jason. She'll likely focus on second base in addition to pitching for the Falcons.
Through 16 games, Zanni is batting a robust .581 for the Pirates (12-4). She has a slugging percentage of 1.127, with six home runs, eight doubles and two triples. She's driven in 28 runs and has struck out only once in 55 at-bats.
In the circle, she has an 8-3 record with a 1.27 ERA. She's struck out 114 batters and walked 18 in 77 innings while allowing 35 hits.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com