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CCC revises softball, soccer schedules for March start

ASHLAND — If there’s going to be sports taking place during the 2020-21 school year at Southern Oregon University, the spring increasingly looks to be the time for that to happen.

The Cascade Collegiate Conference announced Wednesday that it has once again reworked the conference-only soccer schedule while pushing back the start of the 2021 softball season. Both of those sports will begin play the first week of March, with the goal of giving the teams enough games to qualify for their respective NAIA national playoffs.

Due to the ongoing pandemic and COVID-19 cases still rising in both Oregon and Washington, however, spectators will not be allowed at the games.

“We are all staying positive. It’s my job to protect the players, make sure we are following all the rules and protocols but we are not going to gain anything by focusing on any negatives or schedule changes,” SOU head coach Davie Carmichael said. “We will just focus on the process day to day, in each session and fully prepare for each game. It’s a new type of challenge and we are excited.”

SOU athletes returned to campus this week with the start of the winter term. It will also be the start of the CCC’s COVID-19 testing program, where every SOU team will undergo weekly virus testing.

During the fall, SOU only tested a few teams per week as a trial run of the protocols that the school and conference have put into place to try and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re making decisions as a conference but also as individual programs sport-by-sport that will hopefully provide the best opportunity for those student-athletes,” SOU athletic director Matt Sayre said in an interview with the Mail Tribune last week. “Competition on the horizon is keeping a lot of spirits lifted. The opportunity to practice, the opportunity to put a ball in their hand to run to exercise to lift to be around their teammates even if they’re in masks and socially distanced, they appreciate the opportunity to do that.

“It’s important that they do that to maintain their mental health on top of their physical health.”

The Raiders’ softball team, the 2019 NAIA national champion, were ranked No. 1 in the country when the 2020 season was suspended — and ultimately shelved for good — in the middle of March.

SOU, which in May welcomed back its title-winning head coach Jessica Pistole after she coached a season at the University of San Diego, will begin its reworked 2021 campaign with a four-game series at Bushnell (formerly Northwest Christian) starting March 5.

In soccer, the teams that have chosen to not opt out of a season have been broken into two divisions for the reworked spring schedule. SOU will be a part of the CCC’s West Division, and will play a 10-game schedule that spans over five weeks.

Schools will play the same teams on back-to-back days rather than two different schools in one weekend like they do during a normal fall season in an attempt to minimize exposure and potential transmission to COVID-19. Games are scheduled to begin March 7, with the SOU men and women playing at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington.

Also in the West: Oregon Tech, Bushnell, Corban and Warner Pacific.

With the CCC’s postseason tournament being canceled, the winner of each division will receive one of the conference’s two automatic bids into the NAIA national tournament.

“We are delighted we have the opportunity to prepare for and play games,” Carmichael said. “We didn’t have the opportunity to build game relationships during the fall so it will be an important period of building togetherness.”

Despite restrictions from Gov. Kate Brown’s office still preventing full-contact practices and competition, SOU has yet to opt out of the men’s and women’s wrestling season, according to a press release from the school.

The CCC, which has the vast majority of its schools based in Oregon, also pushed the start of volleyball and the men’s and women’s basketball seasons back to late February and early March, respectively. Those two sports, along with cross-country, saw SOU opt out of due to the pandemic and the health concerns.

“Each school, each program, each sport sometimes has to make decisions independent of the conference,” Sayre said. “As much as we try to work together, a school in Washington and a school in Idaho and a school in Oregon are just working with such different regulations and parameters that it almost makes it impossible to do something completely collective.”

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Southern Oregon University head men's soccer coach Davie Carmichael watches his team warm up for practice this past October at Raider Stadium in Ashland. (Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune)