Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Postseason awards are as fickle as they come, and trying to find a rhyme or reason to whomever gets honored is a pointless quest.
Still, when there are no Class 6A boys basketball players south of Eugene anywhere on the all-state list, it's a head-scratcher.
South Medford, after all, finished fourth in the state power rankings after winning its 12th conference title in 13 years and placed sixth at the state tournament (with two six-point losses at the Moda Center).
North Medford went into the state playoffs with a No. 10 power ranking and the Southern Oregon Hybrid's player of the year in junior Tristen Holmes, who led the league in scoring.
Could someone from either Medford team have made it on the final list of honorees? There's enough evidence to support at least an honorable mention selection. Panthers senior Ben Orndoff gave Holmes a run for player of the year in the SOH, while junior Brayden Massey was a second-team all-tournament selection.
"It's hard to explain the rationale on how those players are chosen but it can't be a popularity contest," said South Medford girls basketball coach Tom Cole. "There's no way at least a single kid from around here on the boys side should've been left off."
Does that mean someone on that all-state list should have been left off to make that happen? Absolutely not. Each of the 17 players were deserving of their honor. And, honestly, there wasn't a huge "wow" factor from any players or teams from the SOH this past season in boys basketball.
Holmes' chances were likely wiped out when his team failed to get out of the first round of the state playoffs despite hosting No. 23-seeded South Eugene. For all his all-around efforts leading up to the state tourney, Orndoff wasn't really able to separate himself in the three Portland games. As for Massey, only a handful of coaches who caught South's games at the state tourney likely saw first-hand the type of player he can be.
"I think when we've been pretty good and even very good, we've surely been recognized for it," said South Medford boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy. "Right now we're not at that level. You feel bad because you'd like to get some kids statewide recognition but, in my own mind, I didn't feel we had the kids that belonged over someone else."
Still it begs the question of what separates players when it comes to the statewide voting by coaches and, like it or not, exposure and reputation are a big part of the equation. Unfortunately, those are two areas that southern Oregon teams struggle to get in front of year after year.
Murphy absolutely would play again in the Les Schwab Invitational, as the Panthers were able to do during the days of Kyle Singler, but that invitation is a hard one to get and typically a year in the making. No Oregon tournament carries as much exposure as the LSI, but your credentials and expected roster have to meet lofty standards.
Along with the rest of the SOH teams, Murphy said he'd love to play more nonconference games against the Portland-area schools, it's just not always up to him.
"Scheduling has become kind of an art, as hard as that is to believe," he said. "It really is difficult."
When reached Monday, Murphy was en route to a statewide scheduling meeting between Class 6A and 5A boys basketball representatives. To say the issue was a hot-button one for Murphy would be an understatement.
"Our girls basketball team gets out all over and our soccer teams do OK," said Murphy, "but it's really difficult for the rest of us. Everybody will go north but nobody wants to come south. It's so hard to find people that want to come down and play us."
Therein lies the rub for the 6A teams in Medford, Grants Pass and Roseburg, as well as for 5A programs like Ashland, Eagle Point and Crater (beginning next fall).
"You need that competition and you want those games (against Portland-area schools) because it better prepares you," said Murphy. "Anytime we all want to go north and play a couple games they'll take us with open arms, but they're not always OK with flipping it and playing down here the next year."
"That makes it tough because I feel some loyalty to our fans," added Murphy, who also serves as South Medford athletic director. "They should get to see us play a little bit at home before our league starts."
That's where early season games against 5A schools like Bend, Summit and Mountain View have come into play for the largest Medford high schools. As good as those games have been at times, though, it's not like any of those coaches can throw support around one of your players come postseason voting time.
The formation of a Southwest Conference in all sports for the next time block should help with exposure and hardening of a team's mettle for the state playoffs, but it also takes the Eugene-area schools largely out of the equation for scheduling since now those matchups will be in conference.
"Now it's simply you're headed to Salem or above," Murphy said when looking at nonleague scheduling.
"But I really do think our (new) league with the Eugene schools will help us in terms of toughness and that sort of thing."
Being good friends with Wilson head coach Scott Aker, whose team moves from 5A to 6A next year, has helped Murphy fill a void on his schedule, and conversations with Jesuit's Gene Potter allowed him to swing a two-game deal in Portland next winter for those teams to host South Medford and North Medford.
Murphy also tried to arrange two-year home-and-home deals with the Metro League but was ultimately rebuffed by its ADs, who were unwilling to commit to a road trip in the second year.
"Part of it is they just don't have to come down here," he said.
As for the Abby's Holiday Classic, which enters its 25th year, Murphy said he's still trying to fill the final two spots after already getting commitments from Roseburg, West Albany, Franklin and McKay to go with South and North.
"It's never easy, which is why I say scheduling has become kind of an art," he said. "There's things you want to do and things you can do, and those aren't always the same."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry