On this week of taking the time to be thankful, the final three teams competing during the fall season certainly learned a lot about that process over the weekend.
It started with North Medford's football team on Friday night, moved over to Ashland's football team Saturday afternoon and hit a crescendo with Cascade Christian's football team that night.
Of all the lessons learned, the biggest may be that the journey is just as important as the destination.
As one of the final three teams in action, North Medford had its season come to a close in the Class 6A state quarterfinals. Ashland's perfect season finally was blemished in the 5A state semifinals. As the most fortunate of the bunch, Cascade Christian's season was extended one more week thanks to its triumph and will have a chance at a 3A state championship on Saturday in Bend.
But win or lose, the same feeling overwhelmed each locker room by the close of the weekend. And that feeling was that a team can't achieve anything if it doesn't come together as a family.
Whether it was tears of joy or frustration, hugs moved from one teammate to another and all you could hear was talk of brotherhood, solidarity and how much it meant to be sharing this time with each other.
"It's just total shock and I can't believe it's over," said Ashland quarterback Danial White, who epitomized the sentiment and wanted to speak more about his teammates than his game. "We had such an amazing season and I love my teammates so much. I couldn't ask for anything more from them. I'm going to love them forever."
SOME LESSONS are harder to learn than others but North Medford football coach Mike Mitchell hopes his team, which largely returns intact next season, can take something from the lumps it received during Friday's 42-0 loss at second-ranked Tigard.
The Tigers knocked starting quarterback Troy Fowler and tailback/linebacker Nick Janakes out of the game in the first quarter, limited the Black Tornado to 42 total yards after a 53-yard opening drive and effectively did what it wanted offensively in amassing 461 total yards — including 321 on the ground.
"I really don't know what you say after something like that," said Mitchell, "but we're going to flush this and go to work next week. We've got 38 juniors in here and had good senior leadership this year to really set them up."
But even as he felt for his own team, which had won 10 straight and claimed its first conference title since 2005, Mitchell had respect for what Tigard was able to accomplish under the spotlight of the state quarterfinals.
"I really do think you've got to look at a team like that if you want to be there and learn something from them," said the second-year Tornado coach. "They came out to play and when they block you they're not just trying to block you, they're trying to physically dominate you. We found out we've got some work to do in the weight room."
Junior defensive lineman Skyler Black agreed that the Tigers may have caught the Black Tornado off guard with their physicality.
"They were a physical team and they were big and I think they were intimidating," said the 6-foot, 215-pounder, "but I feel like if we played them again, knowing them now, I feel like it'd be a different game. But that's how things played out."
ASHLAND PROVED game for its challenge on Saturday against top-ranked Sherwood in a matchup of the final 5A unbeatens this season but some mountains simply are too steep to climb.
The defending state champion Bowmen entered the game having won 50 of their last 51 games and, not surprisingly, will find themselves at the 6A level next year — along with fellow state finalist West Albany — when reclassification takes effect for the next four-year time block.
"They're phenomenal," said Ashland head coach Charlie Hall. "It'll be interesting to see what that (Wing-T) system does at the next level when they play against Jesuit and people like that at the 6A level. Can that style of offense compete? I'm sure it will. There's no doubt in my mind because they have a lot of momentum, they have a lot of understanding of what they're doing because they run the same system throughout their youth programs and their kids believe."
Belief was also on the Grizzlies' side but they couldn't compete with the overall depth and top-end experience Sherwood was able to muster.
"I'm proud of everyone, all the seniors especially who have worked hard over the last four years," said Ashland senior running back/linebacker Mason Montgomery. "We all played hard, and the underclassmen stepped up as well. It's going to be nice for them not having Sherwood or West Albany next year because they'll be going up to 6A."
SOUTH MEDFORD will need to fill a coaching vacancy in its volleyball program after Sarah Costa resigned recently following a six-year run at the helm of the Panthers.
Costa initially was pressed into duty only days before the 2008 season when, just prior to daily doubles, the coach chosen to replace Adam Wagman said she wouldn't be able to. Costa stepped up in South Medford's time of need and went on to guide the Panthers to two winning seasons and trips to the state playoffs in each of her last four seasons.
Overall, the Panthers compiled a 51-83-1 record in six years under Costa and went 13-39 in conference play.
"We surely appreciate all the time, effort and energy she put into our program," said South Medford athletic director Dennis Murphy. "She surely worked hard and connected well with the kids and tried to move the program forward."
This past season, South Medford went 8-14 overall and tied for fourth in the Southern Oregon Hybrid with Crater at 1-7. The Panthers beat McKay in a five-set play-in game before losing to Central Catholic in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs to eventual runner-up Central Catholic.
After two last-place Southwest Conference seasons kept the Panthers out of the playoffs, Costa guided the Panthers to a 12-10 record in 2010 and second place in the SOH. South went 12-11 and tied for third in 2011 and, in 2012, went 9-14 and tied for third again in the SOH.
South Medford earned play-in victories in each of the past three seasons but the program has never advanced beyond the first round of the state playoffs.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry