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Best of 2008

The challenge of determining the top stories of the year has again come and gone. And, as usual, the Mail Tribune sports staff made diverse selections to arrive at our top 10 list of top local stories for 2008. Actually, it's a top 11 as there was a tie for the last spot.

There were 48 entries culled from a year's worth of outstanding events and performances. We had six voters, down three from last year, and they spread their votes around to 18 entries.

No. 1 is familiar. Kyle Singler — or his team — was our top story the previous two years, and nothing has changed even though the former South Medford basketball player is toiling across the country. He continues to play for one of the great college programs and does so at a very high level. And, really, it doesn't seem like he's that far away as so many Blue Devil games are televised.

Only a rush of cross country brilliance slipped between Singler and another former South Medford hoopster, Ryan Fiegi. The runners brought home six individual and team state titles on one magnificent Saturday in Eugene, while Fiegi was the key to an Oregon Tech national crown.

All of our voters had the top three somewhere on their ballots. After that, only one other entry was roundly penciled in: prep track, which came in at No. 8.

Our No. 4 story, North and South Medford making it to the boys basketball state tournament together for the first time, was voted No. 2 on three ballots, No. 10 on another and left off yet another.

Max King competing in the Olympic trials was worthy of a No. 1 vote from one person but was omitted from the others.

So it goes. In many ways we see things similarly, and in many ways we don't. An exact science it's not.

If you want to tell us how you'd vote, or how great or how poorly you think we did, go online and find this story or go to sports forums (www.mailtribune.com/forums) and fire away.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

OUR TOP STORIES

KYLE SINGLER

The former South Medford player capped a sensational freshman season at Duke by being named Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year. He was also on the all-freshman first team and was a third-team all-ACC selection after sharing the team lead in rebounding (5.8 per game) and coming in second in scoring (13.3). Singler opened the 2008-09 season by being named ACC co-player of the week and regional MVP in the 2K Sports Classic. Through 11 games, he leads Duke with per-game averages of 15.9 points and 7.8 rebounds.

PREP CROSS COUNTRY

There was no stopping the Southern Oregon contingent at the state meet early in November at Lane Community College. Elliott Jantzer of Phoenix won his second straight 4A boys title, and Crater and St. Mary's each made return trips to the top of the medals podium. But it was North Medford's Drew Jordan who turned heads by snaring the 6A boys crown. He was ranked 26th going in. Josh Elliott of Crater won the 5A boys event to lead the Comets to their third straight team victory, and the St. Mary's girls defended their 3A/2A/1A title. Hidden Valley's boys got in the act with a 4A team win.

RYAN FIEGI

Another former South Medford basketball player enjoyed a dream season, as Fiegi led Oregon Tech of Klamath Falls to the NAIA Division II national championship and was named national player of the year. The Owls (31-6) were seeded 11th at nationals but defeated No. 2 seed MidAmerica Nazarene in the semifinals and top seed Bellevue (Neb.) in the finals, 63-56. Fiegi, a 6-foot-7 guard, had 22 points, four rebounds and four assists against Bellevue. For the season, Fiegi averaged 20.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

6A BOYS BASKETBALL

For the first time since Medford High split in 1986, the boys basketball teams from North and South Medford highs advanced to the state tournament. The season marked the first playoff victory for North since 1995 and its first tournament appearance since 1999. It was runner-up in the Southwest Conference but placed fifth at state. Jordan Ellis and Josh Pecktol were chosen second-team all-tourney. South earned at least a share of the league title for a seventh straight year and made the state tourney a seventh straight time. It placed sixth, with E.J. Singler a first-team all-tourney choice and second-team all-state pick. He later signed with Oregon. Michael Harthun was first-team all-state.

MIKE BARRY

The Medford golfer shot back-to-back rounds of 69 for a 6-under 138 to win the U.S. Amateur Qualifier at Eagle Point Golf Club. He took the outright lead with a birdie on the par-5 16th hole, hitting a 4-iron an eye-popping 255 yards to a green flanked by water and sand traps. Barry was one of two players in the field of 35 to advance to the U.S. Amateur in Pinehurst, N.C. There, he failed to make it past two qualifying rounds to match play. He later wins his second straight Southern Oregon Golf Tournament men's title.

CRATER SOFTBALL

Crater rallied to defeat Glencoe, 3-2, for the second straight year in the Class 5A state championship game. The Comets scored the winning run in the sixth inning on an illegal pitch, then center fielder Emily Morrill made a game-saving defensive play by throwing out a runner at third base while the tying run was heading home. The out at third ended the game and was a fitting way for Morrill — the 5A player of the year — to go out. Ashleigh Larson was the offensive star, hitting an RBI triple to tie it in the sixth, then scoring the go-ahead run. Crater finished 24-6.

SOUTH MEDFORD FOOTBALL

South Medford knocked off reigning state champion Sheldon to win its first Southwest Conference football championship. The Panthers, despite a difficult nonconference schedule, climbed to a No. 2 state ranking behind first-team all-state receivers E.J. Singler, a tight end, and Mitch Singler, a wideout. They were complemented in a balanced offense by a running brigade led by Patrick Thibeault and a veteran offensive line. South made it to the state quarterfinals before losing to eventual 6A champion Southridge. The Panthers went 10-2.

PREP TRACK AND FIELD

Middle and long distance runners from area schools turned in championship performances at the 6A/5A/4A state meet at Hayward Field in Eugene. Ashland's Matt Miner won the 5A 3,000 meters with a time of 8:42.39, breaking the year-old meet record held by Crater's Jake Keyser (8:45.47). Two days later, Miner claimed a thrilling 1,500 title with a time of 3:55.17. Phoenix's Elliott Jantzer won his second straight 4A 3,000 in 8:40.47. He also captured the 1,500 two days later, outkicking Rogue River's Cole Watson to finish in a school-record 3:58.53. Watson won the 4A 800 in 1:54.71, a school record.

JEREMY GUTHRIE

Former Ashland High standout Jeremy Guthrie was named the opening-day starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up six runs (five earned) and nine hits in a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the American League World Series representative. Guthrie was the top starting pitcher for the Orioles, going 10-12 with an ERA of 3.63. He made 30 starts and sat out nearly the last month with a sore shoulder. The Orioles 68-93.

NATE SCHNUGG

The former North Medford standout was named most outstanding player at the NCAA team tennis championships after he helped Georgia capture its second consecutive title — the NCAAs first repeat performance in 11 years. Against Texas, Georgia trailed 2-0 before the sophomore Schnugg got the Bulldogs on the board with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over former Medford resident and close friend Kellen Damico. Schnugg later was named to the All-American singles team.

ASHLAND BASEBALL

Ashland captured its first baseball state championship by defeating top-ranked Thurston, 4-3, in the Class 5A finale. Sam Gaviglio pitched a five-hitter, and Luke Jannusch belted a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning to lead the charge. The Grizzlies, 28-2, rebounded from a 2-0 deficit. The title was part of a whirlwind period of little more than a week for Gaviglio, who also was named 5A pitcher of the year, signed to play at Oregon State and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kyle Singler lived up to the expectations at Duke last season by being named ACC freshman of the year.