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Locals brace for Rogue Memorial Challenge

As the highest-ranked U19 team in the seventh annual Rogue Memorial Challenge, the Rogue Valley Timbers 00 Red team is the odds-on favorite to emerge from the five-team field and claim the championship trophy.

But that doesn’t mean the local Oregon State Cup semifinalist that earlier this season went 13 games without a loss is going to coast its way to Monday’s final. No, says center back Luka Cvijanovic, the team which consists almost entirely of soccer stars from local high schools is eager to put its best foot forward in front of friends and family.

“I think it’s good to approach it as any other tournament if you’re looking to compete,” Cvijanovic said, “however, it is upon our home field, it is our home turf so to speak, so it’s always good to come up here and try to win the tournament so there’s a little pressure on that as well. We did reach the semis at state so there is some expectation for us to succeed.”

“Oh yeah,” RVT Red coach Greg Millick added, “I’m not from here but in the time that I’ve had my teams in the Rogue Memorial Challenge the players for the Rogue Valley, they love this tournament. Home town, little prideful that way, and they play more of the local area teams so there’s kind of a bragging rights thing on the line.”

RVT 00 Red is one of 145 teams that will compete in the Rogue Memorial Challenge this season, according to tournament director and Rogue Valley Timbers 00G Red coach Kevin Primerano. The tournament, which begins Saturday and wraps up Monday, will feature clubs from Oregon, California and Nevada in age groups ranging from U10 to U19 playing games at four local sites: U.S. Cellular Community Park, South Medford High, North Medford High and Fichtner-Mainwaring Park.

Teams are guaranteed four matches. Medals are awarded for first through third place and a team trophy goes to the winner in each bracket.

Millick’s RVT 00 Red team will serve as the local fan favorite in the highest-level boys division, and there are two local teams in the toughest girls bracket, the U19 Cascade division: the Rogue Valley Timbers 00 Black and the Rogue Valley Timbers 00 Red. Primerano’s Red club is ranked ninth in Oregon and 268th in Region 4, while the Black club, coached by Randy Fitch, is 11th and 318th, respectively.

The tournament also features the Goalie Wars event Saturday night, a fan favorite which will begin at 8 p.m. under the lights at North Medford High School. During the Goalie Wars intermission one U14 boy and girl will be presented with the Shelley Green Award, which goes to the players who demonstrate “a love for the game of soccer.”

The boys RVT 00 Red team will unleash the best local soccer talent in the valley, including players from Medford, Central Point, Ashland, White City and Grants Pass. The club includes Kam Calhoun, a Southwest Conference first-team all-star from South Medford; Elijah Elliott, a Grants Pass Caveman who’s headed to Division I Cal State Bakersfield; and goalie Kendal James, a former North Medford standout who’s now at Southern Oregon University.

The team’s scoring threats include Milan Bobek of St. Mary’s, Jonathan McCoy of Cascade Christian, Ruben Rodriguez of South Medford and Cvijanovic, the first-team all-District 5 senior from St. Mary’s who’s deadly on set pieces/corner kicks.

“I never really know how to explain it,” said Cvijanovic, who’s headed next fall to UCLA, where he may play intramural soccer. “I have a knack for finding the ball when I’m in the middle. But it always helps having teammates who kind of know how I like the ball to be played and where they like to put it. It really helps that we have players who are on the same page, and when things click like that it’s not that easy to stop by the opposing team.”

“That’s kind of the thing with that group, just how loaded in talent we are,” Millick said.

James and Tobias D’Amato will share time in goal, but if the Timbers get into their ball-control zone the goalies may not see much action.

“Our strength is our ability to possess the ball,” Millick said. “We out-possess teams pretty much throughout every game that we play. We defend really well as a group as well. We’re a grind-it-out type of team, very difficult to break down and, once we have the ball, very difficult to get the ball back off us.”

The RVT 00 Red teams opens the tourney Saturday morning against AC United Alliance, which is ranked 90th in California North. The game is set to begin at 9:20 a.m. on U.S. Cellular Field 10. The championship game will be played Monday at 11 a.m. on the same field.

The girls U19 field is divided into three divisions: Cascade, Siskiyou and Sierra. Cascade is the top rung, and it’s there where the two Timbers-affiliated clubs will battle it out along with two other clubs. The field includes the North State Soccer Missfits Renegades 00, ranked 46th in California North and 106th in Region 4, and 4-H Bayern Munich 00G, which ranks 10th in Oregon and 314th in Region 4.

The RVT Red club, which is the defending Rogue Memorial Challenge champion, boasts 10 seniors, eight of which will be playing at the next level. That’s part of the reason Primerano calls his squad a “once in a generation type of team.” The roster includes Madelynn Wheelock and Meghan Michels from St. Mary’s, Whitney Winans, Madilyn Pineda and Baylee Smith from South Medford, Brinley O’Neill from North Medford and Lily Annen, Mya Holzshu and Mikayla Titus from Ashland. Pineda was the 2018 Southwest Conference player of the year.

RVT Black will also be representing the Rogue Valley this weekend, with a 17-player roster that includes seven from Medford, four from Ashland and two from Central Point.

In the first game of the bracket, North State will face RVT Red Saturday at noon at U.S. Cellular Field 10. The Cascade championship game is set for Monday at 9:30 a.m., also on Field 10.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Larry Stauth Jr./For the Mail TribuneRVT 99B Red's Angel Zamores Romero attempts to steal the ball away from Cascade Rush's Adam Blackburn during the 2018 Rogue Memorial Challenge tournament at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Larry Stauth Jr./For the Mail TribuneRVT 99B Red's Preston Jernigan dribbles the ball past Cascade Rush's Justin Waybright during the 2018 Rogue Memorial Challenge tournament at U.S. Cellular Community Park.