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A year of records, stars

There were huge upsets, fantastic finishes, spectacular — plays, clutch performances and agonizing losses, but when it comes to — sports the 2003-04 school year will probably be remembered most in Ashland — for the end of two eras.

Jim Nagel joined Ashland High in 1983 and led the football — program to three state championship victories in 20 years before announcing — his retirement as athletic director - he stepped down as football coach — in 2002 - earlier this year.

Southern Oregon University running back Dusty McGrorty — broke every major career rushing

record at SOU last fall before signing an NFL free agent — contract with the St. Louis Rams in April.

The duo will go down as two of the most important and — celebrated sports figures in Ashland history, even as they attempt to — add to their respective resumes elsewhere - Nagel will be the quarterbacks — coach at Linfield College next fall, while McGrorty tries to become the — first SOU alum to play in a regular season NFL game.

There were other highlights:

o Ashland High senior pitcher/outfielder Chad Hegdahl — led Ashland at the plate and on the mound, earning first-team all-conference — honors in the process, as the Grizzlies advanced to the playoffs for the — fourth consecutive year.

o SOU senior heavyweight Wes Balensifer overcame an untimely — battle with food poisoning to win his first NAIA national wrestling title.

o The SOU volleyball team qualified for nationals after — another victorious run through the regional tournament.

o Led by Andy Wright and David Morgan, the Ashland High — boys' cross country

team placed fifth at the Class 4A state

meet.

o Ashland High senior hitter Chelsea Van Lehn bumped and — spiked her way to Southern Oregon Conference player-of-the-year honors, — becoming the second straight Grizzly to capture the league's top award — (Marla Morin won it in 2002).

o SOU senior outside hitter Kristina Matchett finished — her Raider volleyball career as the holder of SOU game (16), match (40), — season (669) and career (2,291) kill records.

o Grizz girls' basketball players Hilary Huyett and Alysse — Carlson both were honored as first-team all-SOC selections in a league-wide — coaches vote that also singled-out Grizz junior post Abeni Hill.

Following is a roundup of the best the 2003-04 school — year had to offer at both Ashland High and Southern Oregon.

Top teams

When it came to Ashland sports, the Southern Oregon University — volleyball team was the cream of the crop in 03-04.

The Raiders won the regional tournament and advanced to — the NAIA national championships for the third year in a row before falling — just short of a berth in the finals bracket.

When the dust settled, SOU had completed arguably the — most successful season in team history: The Raiders finished 24-8 overall, — captured the school's first Cascade Conference championship since 1991, — won at least 20 matches for the seventh year in a row and qualified for — the postseason for the 16th straight year. Southern rose to No. 11 in — the national polls - NAIA volleyball is 255 teams strong - and tied for — 13th at the 20-team national tourney.

"Although our 1-3 record (at nationals) doesn't reflect — it, I thought we played the program's best-ever volleyball the past two — days," Raider coach Paul Elliott said after SOU's run came to an end. — "We were neck-and-neck with three storied programs."

Raider volleyball fans will see a different team in '04 — since three of the squad's top performers - Sara Tatom, Lindsey Aitchison — and Matchett - have used up their eligibility.

Ashland High athletics was also at its best during the — fall, thanks to outstanding performances by its volleyball and boys' cross — country teams.

Behind Van Lehn's polished all-around game, the Grizz — volleyball team advanced to the Class 4A state quarterfinals, where they — pushed defending champion and second-ranked Gresham to the limit before — losing a three-game barn-burner.

Ashland couldn't recover in time to beat sixth-ranked — Sheldon for a spot in the fourth-sixth-place match and ended the tournament — without a trophy.

"We didn't completely accomplish everything that we wanted — to, but all is not lost," Grizz head coach Josh Rohlfing said. "I feel — this is one of the best teams, as a whole, I've had as far as character — and being a team."

The AHS boys' cross country team came through when it — counted most and surpassed expectations at state thanks to superb performances — by Wright and Morgan, both juniors. Wright took seventh in 15 minutes, — 35 seconds, finishing ahead of two SOC runners who beat him the week before — at districts. Morgan took ninth in 15:40.

If there was an award for best club sport team, the AHS — girls' snowboarding team would probably win it. The Grizzlies captured — their second straight state title in April behind the leadership and skill — of seniors Emma Kurtz, Ella Street, Lily McCabe and Steph Elliott.

The best of the rest:

o The SOU men's basketball team won 19 games, an 11-win — improvement over the previous season, and advanced to the Cascade Conference — semifinals before losing to eventual NAIA national champion Oregon Tech.

o The SOU softball team repeated as Cascade Conference — champs and set a program record for victories (40) before falling to eventual — national tournament finalist Simon Fraser in the regional finals.

o The Ashland High water polo team downed Sandy to snare — third-place in the state tournament. Senior Michael Stout had five goals — and senior Arron Nelson had four in the 14-7 win.

o The Ashland High girls' golf team finished seventh overall — at state a week after easily clinching the SOC district title.

o The Ashland High girls' tennis team capped its undefeated — conference season with a team co-championship at the Southern Oregon Conference — district tournament.

o The Ashland High baseball team overcame a midseason — slump to sneak into the Class 4A state playoffs, then shocked Dallas in — a subtournament game that saw the Grizzlies overcome a four-run deficit — in the bottom of the seventh. Ashland lost to Redmond two days later.

o The Ashland High girls' basketball team lost a 52-51 — heartbreaker to Tigard in the second-round of the 4A playoffs.

o The SOU football team won five of its last six games — after an 0-3 start to finish above .500 for the fifth consecutive season.

Top Athletes

Few athletes come to symbolize a team's rise from mediocrity — to perennial contender as perfectly as the Raiders' McGrorty.

When the 6-foot, 225-pound Warrenton native first carried — the ball for SOU in '00, the Raiders were 13 years removed from their — last playoff appearance. the time McGrorty took his final handoff Nov. — 15 at Eastern Oregon, the Raiders were aiming for their third straight — playoff appearance.

SOU didn't make the NAIA national championships in McGrorty's — final season, but did end up ranked in the top-25 for the third straight — year, an accomplishment McGrorty may be chiefly responsible for.

McGrorty's numbers are mind-boggling and some of his records, — especially the career rushing yards mark, will likely stand for decades. — The three-time All-American capped his Raider career with 5,414 rushing — yards (No. 4 all-time among NAIA players), 79 touchdowns (No. 2 all-time), — 10 school records and eight regional records.

In his final collegiate game, McGrorty rushed a school-record — 46 times for a career-best 303 yards.

Hegdahl's golden arm and powerful bat made him one of — the leading candidates for the SOC player-of-the-year award, but his gaudy — stats weren't enough to beat out the best player (Rob Folsom) on the SOC's — second-best team (North Medford).

Hegdahl batted .517 in league play with 16 RBIs, 12 doubles — and 20 runs scored. His slugging percentage in league play was .817. He — also excelled on the mound, where he carried a 2.29 ERA in SOC contests — with 56 strikeouts and a 5-3 record.

"He can do it all," Ashland head coach Jason Robustelli — said of Hegdahl. "You can stick him anywhere in the lineup and he shines — all the way."

Grizz volleyball coach Josh Rohlfing could use the same — words to describe Van Lehn, who seemed to be everywhere for the Grizzlies. —

Van Lehn boasted a .387 hitting percentage to go with — a team-high 176 kills in SOC play. She also led Ashland in serve receive — and was second in blocks and digs.

"Coming into the season we, had a lot of expectations — for Chelsea," Rohlfing said. "She is a more complete player than anyone — I've ever had."

Matchett was an equally dominating force in the SOU volleyball — lineup. She set NAIA records by notching at least 10 kills in 125 of 130 — career matches and posting 48 20-kill-or-better performances.

She also finished No. 4 all-time at SOU for digs (1,052) — and was the first non-track female athlete in SOU history to become a — three-time All-American.

Balensifer also earned a place in SOU lore by becoming — the first heavyweight wrestler in school history to win it all.

The senior from Warrenton was the national runner-up as — a freshman but had failed to place in his sophomore and junior seasons. — He made his final opportunity count, posting a 4-2 victory over Simon — Fraser's Mohammed Abdul-Latif in the finals. The win also enabled the — three-time All-American to finish the season 42-2 and tie SOU's season — victory record.

"Last year I kind of fell apart," Balensifer said of his — junior year. "This year, every time I got on the mat I asked myself, 'Do — you want to go out on top?' If I wouldn't have won the title I would have — felt like my wrestling career was a failure."

The best of the rest:

o Ashland High junior golfer Stephanie Johns finished — third at the state meet. Johns, the top golfer in the SOC, finished the — two-day event with a 10-over 154.

o Nelson proved to be one of Ashland High's best all-around — athletes by excelling in a sport every season - water polo in the fall, — swimming in the winter and baseball in the spring. Nelson advanced to — the state swim meet, where he took fifth in the 50-meter freestyle and — sixth in the 100 free.

o Ashland High sophomore star-in-the-making Kayla Moyse — qualified for the Class 4A girls' tennis tournament for the second year — in a row.

o SOU sophomore Shea Washington led the Raiders in both — points (18.8) and rebounds (9.0), and was one poll point away from becoming — the school's first-ever Cascade Conference player-of-the-year.

o Grizzly junior striker Fabian Garcia-Flores led the — AHS boys' soccer team to the 4A state playoffs and, along with his brother — Jose, earned first-team all-SOC kudos.

o SOU junior shortstop Kara Ray became only the second — Raider softball player to receive NAIA All-American recognition after — leading the Cascade Conference in batting average (.406) and setting school — season records with league-leading totals for hits (71) and runs scored — (45).

o SOU junior pitcher Miranda Gillaspie earned Cascade — Conference pitcher-of-the-year honors after finishing the season with — a league-best 1.97 ERA and 23-7 record.