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SOU Sports Hall of Fame adding 3 national title teams

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University Sports Hall of Fame will admit a unique class this fall comprising three national championship teams, the Hall of Fame committee has announced.

The banner-hanging class of 2021 includes head coach Mike Ritchey’s 2000-01 Raider men’s wrestling team, Brent Ericksen’s 2010 Raider cross country team, and the late Craig Howard’s 2014 Raider football team.

Inductees will be recognized on Sept. 25 at halftime of the SOU football team’s 1 p.m. game against Carroll (Mont.).

The wrestling team, in Ritchey’s sixth season at the helm, collected the school’s fourth national title in 2001 despite being ranked no higher than No. 4 all season, and coming off of a subpar ninth-place finish a year earlier. Behind individual champions John Sills (165 pounds) and Jeremy Wynia (145), the Raiders amassed a school-record 158 points to hold off second-place Missouri Valley with 151 ½.

The Raiders — who also won the team’s 22nd league or district title by prevailing at the Northwest Conference Championships with eight individual champs — had nine All-Americans covering seven weight classes in all. Wes Balensifer (197) Dan Sturgell (184) were national runners-up, and Ritchey was named the NAIA Coach of the Year.

In 2010, the SOU cross country team won the school’s first non-wrestling NAIA team championship — two of them, in fact. While the Raiders claimed the men’s title by putting all five of their scorers among the top-43 finishers, the women turned in a program-best seventh-place team finish that also gave SOU the combined men’s and women’s title.

David Laney led all Raiders in fourth place, marking his second straight All-America performance and the team’s top individual finish in 32 years. Zach Elliott (13th place) and Ryan Sorenson (22nd place) became All-Americans, too, and Summer Cano began a standout career with a 37th-place showing as a freshman that led all SOU women’s runners. Ericksen, who also guided SOU to its third straight Cascade Conference men’s title in his third season, was subsequently voted the NAIA Men’s Coach of the Year.

The 2014 SOU football team defied the odds and upended the NAIA football landscape to reserve its spot in Raider lore. Making just their second postseason appearance in 10 years, the Raiders concluded the NAIA Championship Series with three consecutive upsets — knocking off top-ranked Carroll (Mont.) and No. 3 Saint Xavier (Ill.) on the road, then defeating No. 7 Marian (Ind.) 55-31 in Daytona Beach, Fla., to take the championship and solidify the program’s complete transformation.

The revival happened under Howard, whose Raiders joined the Frontier Conference in 2012 and checked off four consecutive winning seasons after posting just one in the previous eight years. They’d go on to play for another title in 2015, coming up one win short of a repeat. Quarterback Austin Dodge, catalyst of the nation’s most dangerous offense, was named the NAIA Player of the Year and part of a senior core that included three more All-Americans: defensive lineman Daniel Breaux, offensive lineman Drew Gibson, and receiver Dylan Young.

Southern Oregon head coach Craig Howard watches during the NAIA championship game against Marian Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla. PHOTO BY NIGEL COOK / NEWS-JOURNAL