With one obvious exception, the fall season proved particularly kind to the athletes and fans at St. Mary's High.

With one obvious exception, the fall season proved particularly kind to the athletes and fans at St. Mary's High.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that the Crusader football team had to forfeit almost half its season due to a lack of available players, the school's remaining teams took their seasons to the limit in a remarkable showing.

With the boys and girls soccer teams each advancing to Saturday's Class 3A/2A/1A state championship games, that brought the total to three Crusader teams making it to the finals. The volleyball team, which until this season had competed at the 2A level, finished as runner-up at the 3A state tournament to Santiam Christian.

Throw in a 10th-place showing in cross country by the St. Mary's girls and 11th-place finish by the boys and the start of the school year has been one to behold.

"It's been a pretty special start to the year," says St. Mary's Athletics Director James Joy. "There has been a buzz around campus about how well all the athletic teams are doing."

The Crusaders enjoyed a similar start to the school year in 2009, sporting a state championship in girls cross country, semifinal losses in boys and girls soccer and a third-place showing by the volleyball team.

"It's pretty close to last year, but with three teams making it to the finals, that's really the difference," says Joy.

It's especially impressive when you consider the amount of talent found school-wide. The successes weren't the result of a handful of athletes.

"There's tons of talent around here," says Joy. "We're pretty fortunate to have the types of kids around here as we do now."

While neither of the three finalists were able to seize a championship, the Crusaders have seemingly taken it in stride, according to the AD.

"When you get three in the finals, I think all the kids on any of those teams view that as a success in itself," says Joy. "Winning that extra game and getting your team a step further than they were a year ago, I haven't talked to anyone who has really been upset about their finish. Everyone's been proud of their accomplishment and I think that says a lot about the athletes we have here and the coaches. They've taken gratification from that even though they didn't win the big thing."

Joy says no one factor fostered the competitive atmosphere on and off the field at St. Mary's, just a collective mind-set to strive for the top rung.

"A big amount of the credit has to go to our coaching staff and the dedicated coaches and assistants we have in many of our sports," he says. "Our teaching staff has a lot of credit that they deserve, too, because they work so much with our kids and make sure they are student-athletes first. That's why 95 percent of our teams are in the top 10 academically on the Dairy Farmer's list every year."

"It's just a culture over here at St. Mary's, where kids can do everything," adds Joy. "They can play sports, be on speech and debate or mock trial and be successful in the classroom and everybody supports each other in all those areas. It's coaches, it's staff, it's parents and then we get some pretty special kids in here who have a high desire to be successful in whatever they do."

That desire also stems from wanting to be part of a St. Mary's tradition that involves having signs placed in the school gym honoring teams that finish first or second at state.

"I know the kids are really excited about it because that's a big goal that they have," says Joy. "You hear freshmen talking about how they want to work really hard and get their name up on a board. We've got three already this year in just the fall and I've got them already ordered and on their way."

When Joy took over as AD seven years ago, he initiated a gym redesign because the signs were in somewhat random order and a little chaotic.

"Once we put them back up, we looked at it and thought at this pace, we'll have 50 years to get back to where we started on the other side of the gym," he recalls. "But after seven years, we're already halfway there ... but that's a problem we're happy to deal with."

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SUNDAY'S NIKE BORDER CLASH cross country meet went decidedly in favor of the runners from Washington as they swept the boys and girls 4,400-meter races against Oregon foes at the Nike World Headquarters Campus in Beaverton.

The Washington boys had nine runners among the top 10 finishers, including champion Kenji Bierig of Spokane, who won in 13 minutes, 54 seconds. Washington scored 16 points to 47 by Oregon, which was paced by a fifth-place showing by Sheldon's Matthew Melancon (14:04.79).

Crater's Neil Seibert was the top local finisher, coming in 45th at 14:48.83. South Medford's Ryan Perry was 52nd (14:55.20), followed by Jon Obeso of Crater (65th, 14:59.82), Hudson Eustace of Cascade Christian (59th, 15:05.20), Max Runia of Crater (15:18.54) and Jorge Gil Juarez of Phoenix (15:30.13).

The Washington girls also posted nine of the top 10 times, led by Seattle's Maddie Meyers (16:10.59), to total 17 points compared to Oregon's 45. Jesuit's Annamarie Maag placed fourth in 16:16.74.

Among the local competitors, Crater's Jessica Vig was 43rd in 17:36.37, followed by Sierra Brown of Hidden Valley (52nd, 17:53.60) and Sarah Hastings of Crater (60th, 18:04.43),

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com