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The year in print

When it comes to determining the top local sports stories of the year, Southern Oregon always has a host of legitimate contenders, be it through individual or team accomplishments or by an area favorite making it big on the national stage.

This year proved no different when we at the Mail Tribune cast our ballots, although differentiating from one significant feat to the next proved to be daunting.

In all, 23 different items received top 10 votes, with staff members prioritizing their choices in vastly different manners and showing surprise when a particular favorite fell outside the top 10.

In all, only four stories made it on every ballot as we debated whether stories were important due to high achievement or because chronicled a breakthrough performance. Does a story's impact on the area make it more prominent, or should greater weight be given a story because it receives the most coverage?

Those are questions we wrestle with each year in putting forth our top-10 list, and they weren't made any easier in 2005 thanks to a wealth of captivating stories.

Here's how we saw things:

1. STATE RECLASSIFICATION

(Four first-place votes)

The Oregon School Activities Association created statewide controversy when it adopted radical change for the state's high schools, beginning in the fall of 2006. The OSAA, which governs prep athletics, increased the classifications from four to six, thereby altering many leagues.

The Southern Oregon Conference was particularly impacted. The four largest schools ' North and South Medford, Grants Pass and Roseburg ' were moved into a six-team Class 6A district that will include South Eugene and Sheldon of Eugene.

The SOC's smaller schools ' Crater, Eagle Point, Ashland and Klamath Union ' will join Mazama to form a Class 5A district.

The primary motive for the change, according to the OSAA, was to improve competitive balance and alleviate instances in which schools play against others twice their size. The objective was to do this without increasing travel burdens and without eradicating traditional rivalries.

While some larger conferences, particularly those involving SOC and Eugene-area teams, felt the OSAA failed on the latter two goals and fought reclassification, many smaller schools and districts embraced the change.

2. JASON ALLRED

(Two first-place votes)

Jason Allred, the former Ashland High star, played a full season on the PGA Tour after earning his card at grueling Q-school. He began the season with a bang, making the cut, then tying for 17th in the Sony Open in Hawaii. The placing and his earnings of &

36;72,000 would turn out to be his best showing during a season of highs and lows.

He shot a 29 on the front nine at Bermuda Dunes in the first round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, a score that would tie for the low nine on tour. He also played in comedian Bill Murray's group in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, shared the first-round lead with Billy Mayfair at the BellSouth Classic, tied for 26th in a weather-shortened, 54-hole event and recorded a hole-in-one with a 208-yard 5-iron in the final round of the Shell Houston Open.

Ultimately, however, Allred didn't finish high enough on the money list to retain his card. He returned to Q-school and didn't regain his PGA status but instead earned nonexempt standing on the Nationwide Tour.

3. CRATER WRESTLING

(One first-place vote)

Crater's dominant wrestling team ratcheted its success to unprecedented heights at the Class 4A state tournament, setting a 4A record for state placers and team points.

Chase Maloney (160 pounds) and Collin Brooks (171) bagged individual titles as the Comets soared to their third straight team championship and sixth in the past eight years. Top-ranked Crater finished the three-day meet with 227.5 points, an all-time best for 4A schools.

Tyler Weathers (119), Ron Lee (189) and Charlie Alexander (275) each posted runner-up finishes as the Comets finished with 11 state placers among their 14 qualifiers for the first state tournament held in Salem.

4. ASHLAND VOLLEYBALL

Under the guidance of Lindsey Stone, the Class 4A state volleyball player of the year, and Josh Rohlfing, the 4A coach of the year, Ashland won its first-ever state volleyball championship. The top-ranked Grizzlies (34-1) beat No. 2 Central Catholic in the final, 28-26, 22-25, 15-5, to cap a steady run through the state tournament at the Chiles Center in Portland.

Ashland defeated defending champion Jesuit in the quarterfinals and McNary in the semifinals earlier in the day behind sensational all-around play by the senior setter Stone, senior outside hitter Jessica Walters and junior middle blocker Maddison Thivierge. Walters, who had a team-high 18 kills in the championship match, was also a first-team all-state selection, while Thivierge and junior Natalie Lefler were third-team picks and junior Sarah Holgren was an honorable mention selection.

5. TIE

RADIO MEDFORD

Ending a 10-year run as Southern Oregon's primary sports outlet, Radio Medford's KTMT (580-AM) began carrying Radio Lazer programming, offering the Rogue Valley a second 24-hour Spanish-language radio station.

Ron Hren, Radio Medford general manager and vice president for national sales, said the sports station contributed very little to the six-station cluster's No. — position among the three commercial groups in the market.

In evaluating local markets, we came to the conclusion that the Hispanic market plays a more important and bigger role, Hren said of the move away from sports radio.

Radio Medford continued to carry Portland Trail Blazers, University of Oregon and Southern Oregon University games on different stations, as well as high school sports broadcasts provided by independent producer Table Rock Sports.

The departure of ESPN-Radio, however, infuriated sports radio listeners in the Rogue Valley, and many voiced their displeasure.

SOU MEN'S BASKETBALL

Junior Shea Washington became Southern Oregon's first NAIA Division II all-tournament selection, first multiple-year All-American and first Cascade Conference player of the year after guiding the Raiders (22-10) to the quarterfinals of the NAIA National Championships at Point Lookout, Mo.

Washington averaged a double-double for the season (20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds per game) and led the 32-team championship tournament in scoring (26.3 in three games) in SOU's first appearance since 1999.

SOU led 64-60 with 2:40 to play against Cedarville of Ohio in the quarterfinals but couldn't seal the deal as Cedarville scored six unanswered points to advance into the semifinal round. The loss came on the heels of SOU's first two national tournament victories in the program's 98-year history.

7. ROD RUMREY

After 35 years of coaching football, including a second stint at North Medford High, Rod Rumrey decided to walk away for a final time in the midst of one of his top coaching performances with the Black Tornado. Rumrey's first retirement came after leading North to a runner-up finish in the Class 4A state playoffs in 2000, but he returned to the fold when John Beck ' his successor at North ' departed for Crater in the spring of 2004.

Citing a desire to right the ship at North Medford and stabilize a coaching staff that needed to replace 15 of the 17 assistant positions following Beck's departure, Rumrey did so by guiding the Tornado into a three-way tie for second place that season. In 2005, Rumrey was influential in bringing in former Southern Oregon University head coach Jeff Olson and his top assistant, Tom Powell, to go along with a steady contingent of assistants.

The 2005 version of the Black Tornado was largely inexperienced, with only one returning offensive starter and seven on defense, but it still managed to become one of the hottest teams in the state. It won seven straight games prior to a state-quarterfinals loss to eventual runner-up Lincoln. The SOC co-champion Tornado finished the season 8-4 thanks in large part to the exploits of all-state players Ryan Folsom and Tim Endecott.

8. TIE

BRODIE SULLIVAN and ABBY FOWLER

With one flick of his putter on the 18th green, underdog Brodie Sullivan produced one of the most dramatic finishes in the 76-year history of the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Sullivan sank an 18-foot, downhill, sidewinding birdie putt, then watched opponent Jimmy White miss a 4-footer that would have tied the match, to secure a 1-up victory in the men's championship final. Just three months removed from South Medford High, the 18-year-old Sullivan became the event's youngest champion since Tony Joyner in 1982.

The thrilling finish isn't anything new to Sullivan, however, as the shaggy-haired teenager punched his ticket into the finals a day before by draining a pressure-packed 7-foot par putt on the second hole of sudden death to eliminate Justin Wise.

In the women's championship final, Abby Fowler, another former South Medford High standout, scored a 5-and-4 victory over defending champion Nettie Morrison in her first SOGT appearance. The 22-year-old Fowler had previously served as a caddie in the SOGT, and is a recent Xavier University graduate.

CASCADE CHRISTIAN FOOTBALL

Cascade Christian accomplished a pair of historic firsts in the school's 15th year of football as the Challengers (9-1) cruised to an unbeaten Southern Cascade League championship and hosted a Class 2A state-playoff game.

Cascade Christian upended a pair of Class 3A programs in Henley and Rogue River and manhandled SCL nemesis Lost River, 50-0, for its first-ever win over the Raiders en route to an undefeated regular season.

The fifth-ranked Challengers just missed a chance to make it into the state quarterfinals for the first time when eventual state runner-up Vale scored inside the final three minutes to gain a 20-14 victory.

Heading the charge for the Challengers in the SCL were back of the year Josh Heidegger, lineman of the year Chris Buck and coach of the year Andy Maurer.

Cascade Christian allowed a stingy 9.5 points per contest and countered with 41.3 points per game.

10. TIE

PBA INKS THREE-YEAR DEAL

After putting on four straight highly successful Professional Bowlers Association tournaments, Lava Lanes found itself in a position of strength at the bargaining table and landed a three-year contract to allow Medford to remain a regular tour stop.

The Earl Anthony Medford Classic will be the first week of January rather than in the middle of December, and Lava Lanes will be allowed to control the pricing structure of the pro-am squads and tickets in order to make the event more affordable.

Lava Lanes General Manager Ric Donnelly spearheaded the long-term relationship with the PBA Tour, along with Lava Lanes pro Randy Cochran, the Medford Visitors and Convention Bureau's Julie Petretto and Craig Cockrell of primary sponsor Rogue Regency Inn.

Since its inception, Medford has been voted among the most popular stops by the players because of the top-flight center at Lava Lanes and the lavish manner in which they are treated.

MAX KING

Already a two-time defending champion and a clear favorite entering the 29th edition of the Pear Blossom Run, Max King surpassed even the grandest expectations in the 10-mile race when he became the first male to claim three straight crowns and did so in a record time of 49 minutes, 29.38 seconds.

The mark was a 20-second improvement over the previous standard set by Matt Cato in 1990 and matched by Ian Solof in 2001.

King, a 25-year-old graduate of Crater High, was coming off a fifth-place finish at the 8K nationals and wasn't pushed in shattering the Pear record. The chemical engineer from Bend finished a full two minutes ahead of the next fastest runner (Tim Julian) and turned in remarkable splits of 4:52 for Mile 8, 5:00 in Mile 9 and, aided by a late kick, an even faster final mile.