The fall sports season is barely in the rearview mirror but, ready or not, the winter slate begins tonight for several schools in the Rogue Valley.

The fall sports season is barely in the rearview mirror but, ready or not, the winter slate begins tonight for several schools in the Rogue Valley.

To say that most teams aren't ready would be an understatement given the quick transition.

"It's crazy it's this close to starting," said South Medford girls basketball coach Tom Cole. "I think we have something like 12 practice days underneath our belt."

Cole's team has the added pressure of being tabbed the preseason No. 1 in a recent Class 6A coaches poll. The Panthers, who won the state title in 2012 and finished runner-up last year, at least get a few more days before they open their season Friday at the Northwest Invitational at Southridge High.

"While it's a compliment we're the preseason No. 1," said Cole, "we realize that doesn't matter. What matters is where you are at the end of the year. We're just looking to schedule the best teams you can play and, win or lose, our goal's always about are we getting better. Hopefully we'll be in the Rose Garden in March again but we will have to hold ourselves to that focus on getting better each time out."

South Medford's girls team returns Washington State-bound senior Ashley Bolston, junior standout Andee Ritter, sophomore Julissa Tago and key contributors Keyari Sleezer (junior) and Jasmin Falls (sophomore).

The Panthers will dive right into what should be a very challenging schedule again this year with an opening game Friday in the Northwest Invitational against the winner of a Thursday tilt between host Southridge and defending champion Central Catholic.

Also in the Northwest Invitational are fifth-ranked South Salem, No. 8 Beaverton, No. 9 Clackamas and a solid squad from Lynnwood, Wash. The tournament runs Thursday-Saturday, with South Medford serving as the defending champions.

"At this early in the season, I don't expect anybody to be sharp but I think (Central Catholic and Southridge) will have some talent to contend with," said Cole, "and really everybody in that tournament has enough talent that will obviously create good competition."

North Medford's girls basketball team will be one of the main local teams getting their start tonight when the Black Tornado plays at Henley, with the boys and girls teams at Grants Pass, Hidden Valley and Rogue Valley Adventist also taking to the courts.

Ashland and St. Mary's will each have their boys and girls basketball seasons open on the road Thursday at the Yreka Invitational, while Crater's girls season and the return of head coach David Heard begins Thursday at Mazama.

Friday marks the home opener for South Medford's boys basketball team when it plays host to Wilson, which will move across town and serve as the season-opening opponent to North Medford on Saturday afternoon.

The debut of Glenn Johannes as head coach of the Crater boys basketball team will be Friday against Hidden Valley in the North Valley Tournament in Merlin, while the Cascade Christian girls team will also take place in that tournament.

Phoenix's wrestling team will also open its season with a Friday morning tournament, with the prep hockey season opening later that night at The RRRink when North Medford and South Medford square off on the ice.

Saturday's action off the court includes the Ashland Relays at the Southern Oregon University pool, while the wrestling teams at North Medford and Crater will compete at a tourney in Del Norte, Calif.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488,, or