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...
Sharing inevitably brings two moods: One side is thrilled to even have the chance to share while the other is disturbed they can't have it all for their own.
That pretty much summed up the post-game setting after North Medford and South Medford battled to a 4-4 overtime tie in a game that was supposed to settle the Southern Oregon Hybrid girls soccer title on Saturday.
North Medford, the three-time defending SOH champion, opened a 4-1 lead and seemingly had the championship in the bag before South Medford staged a furious comeback that included three goals in the final 16 minutes of regulation at South Medford High.
Neither team could score in the two 10-minute overtime sessions, leaving some confusion before ultimately each program realized they would be SOH co-champions for 2013 with identical 6-1-1 league marks.
"We kinda just lost momentum for a little while," said North Medford senior Halley Folsom, who opened the scoring in the 11th minute. "It was frustrating but we still stayed in it and we tied and that's fine, as long as we didn't lose."
"Conference was one of our team goals," added the forward, "but our ultimate goal is to go far in state and to get past the second round of the playoffs and go farther than we ever have. We have the people to do it and if we're going to do it, this is our year."
Across the way, South Medford head coach Chris Hollewijn was overjoyed with his team's perseverance to help secure the program's first conference crown since 2003.
"They just kept plugging away and I thought it was awesome," said Hollewijn, whose team has gone from fourth to third to first in his three years. "Part of it is the rivalry that we didn't die down but a lot of teams would've checked out anyway down 4-1. I was just blown away by the character they showed, the girls really dug deep."
In their only other meeting this year, North scored midway through the second 10-minute OT period to score a 2-1 triumph.
The smallest player on the field Saturday actually came up the biggest, at least in terms of timely efforts, as South Medford sophomore Renae Nisbet tallied the final goal of the match to help force overtime.
"I just followed through and did a chip ball over and we got it," said the 4-foot-11, 80-pound Nisbet of her equalizer with 7:23 to play. "It was a really good feeling just knowing that we had come all the way back and the excitement just kind of rushed over me. It was really nice."
As co-champions, North Medford (8-4-2) and South Medford (10-3-1) will get a reprieve from Tuesday's play-in games and each will likely open the Class 6A state playoffs at home next Saturday.
"This conference is great," North Medford head coach Emily Miller said of the co-championship, "but our goals are set a little higher so we need to figure out those mental issues before we get into some pretty high competition."
Everything appeared to be going according to plan in the early going for the Black Tornado, with Folsom flying in over everyone for an 8-yard header following a 35-yard direct kick by McKensie Ragan in the 11th minute.
North Medford's lead ballooned to 2-0 in the 16th minute when Sydney Thomas turned the corner on Andrea DeVries and sent a ball just past defender Raney Brooks that Chely Jimenez closed on and one-touched into the net from just inside the box.
"At the beginning we just came out with fire and we were ready just to possess the ball and take it around them," said Folsom.
South Medford answered toward the end of the first half when Brittney Jensen took a throw-in from Franny Gomez down the left sideline, then cut toward the middle and sent a ball into the box that Haylie Durant one-timed into the goal in the 37th minute.
That 2-1 score held up until about seven minutes into the second half, when North Medford junior Ashley Parker curled in a beautiful shot from 30 yards out that dropped just under the crossbar and over the outstretched hands of Panthers keeper McKenzie Kapp.
The Black Tornado then went up 4-1 about four minutes later when Morgan Barry's corner kick made it to the far post and the clearance effort by South's Sara Smith unfortunately went back across the mouth of the goal and just inside the opposite post for an own goal.
Instead of hanging their heads, however, the Panthers regrouped and slowly trimmed their deficit over the final 16 minutes of play.
South Medford freshman Anna Rose gathered a flick on by Hannah Kapple and netted a shot to the far post beyond the grasp of keeper Bailey O'Connor to make it 4-2 with 16:09 to play.
About three minutes later, the Panthers received a direct kick at the 40-yard line and junior Desiree Lakin lofted a nice ball over the defense that Gomez ran on to and headed into the back of the goal.
The snowball kept rolling downhill five minutes later when Nisbet gathered a ball that Jensen had ricocheted off defender Sarah Thomas and quickly turned and chipped a 20-yard ball just beyond O'Connor's reach for a 4-all tie.
"The problem is sometimes when you get up with that kind of a lead you feel safe and so we stopped playing our style of soccer, which is attack and high pressure with our defense," Miller said of losing the 4-1 advantage. "We started wanting to kinda sag back and with their style, which is boot and chase, that's going to kill a sagging defense."
"We kinda lost our mental focus on what our game was and started to play into that chase ball," she added. "It's just a matter of mentally staying with what we're doing."
Conversely, Hollewijn said he kept preaching for his players to remain confident and trust that they could get the job done.
"Unfortunately it took us until (the final 16 minutes of regulation) to get to that point but the girls showed a lot of heart," he said. "Even being down 4-1, I thought it was just a matter of time before something connects and clicks and then it just started. The girls showed unbelievable character."