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Rogue Memorial Challenge back for more in 2022

Annual local soccer tournament gets underway Saturday with 138 teams ranging from U10 to U19 in the field

A year ago, the ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions in Oregon made planning the return edition of the Rogue Memorial Challenge, quite literally, a challenge.

This year?

Maybe not 100% stress-free, but certainly much, much easier for tournament director Kevin Primerano.

“I’ve had an odd feeling of serenity hovering over me all spring long not having to have those worries in the back of my mind,” said Primerano, who also serves as the Rogue Valley Timbers executive director.

The 2022 edition of the Rogue Memorial Challenge and a Memorial Day weekend full of soccer around Medford is upon us again. Starting Saturday and running through Monday afternoon, four different venues — including the tournament hub at Lithia & Driveway Fields — will host the annual tournament that made its comeback last year after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“While we were waiting for some rain and snow here during the spring, I had a mild concern that there would be a realistic chance we could see some smoke in the valley for the weekend,” said Primerano, “but fortunately we got some rain and everything’s allowed us to plan the tournament as usual. That’s been a really nice, relaxing feeling.”

Besides L&D Fields, games will be held at North Medford and South Medford high schools as well as Fichtner-Mainwaring Park.

The tournament field is slightly down from where it was a year ago, dropping from 145 teams to 138 this summer. Primerano said that high gas prices around Oregon and in Northern California and other costs being higher this year compared to 12 months ago likely account for the small dip in numbers.

Regardless, Primerano expects a competitive tournament in all age groups.

“I think we’ve got a great set of brackets across the board all the way from the U10 to the U19 level,” said Primerano, who is now coaching one of the U12 boys teams to coach his son after years of coaching the RVT U19 girls team. “I think the competition will be perfect for the kids.”

That competitiveness is exactly the case in the U19 boys and girls Cascade brackets.

To give one of its most talented teams a higher competition level, the Rogue Valley Timbers 06G girls have moved out of its regular U16 bracket and into competition at the U19 level. There, RVT 06G will face players up to three years older, most of whom are either set to be seniors in high school next year or on the cusp of graduating in the next few weeks.

“It’s exciting,” said RVT 06G coach Cory Maukonen of playing a couple of age levels up this weekend. “Those girls have worked really hard this year and are looking forward to that challenge. It will be really nice to play some tough competition with some athletic and well-put together teams.”

A big reason why Maukonen’s squad has decided to play up rather than stick in their regular age group is to better prepare themselves for their participation in the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Presidents Cup in Arizona next month.

The RVT 06 girls captured the Oregon Presidents Cup title in late April, allowing them to advance to regionals in June.

“Getting to represent Oregon in that tournament is exciting for them,” said Maukonen. “This is an exciting time for them and why we opted to play in the older bracket as a preparation for that tournament.”

RVT 06G has a pair of South Medford standouts leading them at each end of the field in striker Brooke Fairbanks and defender Natalie Scheuneman, both of whom played their sophomore seasons with the Panthers this past fall.

Maukonen also pointed to two of his youngest players, Brycelin Endrikat and Ava Markowitz, as ones to watch this weekend. The duo are currently eighth graders at Hedrick Middle School and plan to attend North Medford in the fall.

The RVT 03 Red girls also feature stalwarts from South’s lineup this past fall in Bella Bottero and Drew Hampson, as well as Emmeline Clark of Ashland and Crater’s Mia Tewes and Kayleigh Gugliotta.

The two RVT teams in the U19 Cascade bracket won’t have to wait long to face one another, as they match up in the first game of the day at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

“It will be fun because it will definitely be a challenge for us soccer-wise,” said Maukonen, “but I think the players will all have a good time because they know each other pretty well and have competed with and against each other in different places. We’re looking forward to it, and it’s a good way to start the tournament.”

Rogue Valley Timbers will also have a pair of teams in the U19 boys Cascade bracket.

One team has been described by Primerano as “a little bit young, but they’re a very strong squad,” while the other will consist of players who just completed their freshman year of college and are still age eligible, as well as high school seniors.

Primerano said that something the older divisions have going for them this year is the fact that players have had the chance to have a normal year again after the hectic spring of 2021 featured abbreviated spring season for high schools.

“They were able to play a full club season in the spring, including their cup competitions, and that allowed the teams to come together and definitely bond a little bit more, definitely more intact and complete,” he said.

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

South Medford's Brooke Fairbanks, seen here competing during the fall 2021 season, will be part of a Rogue Valley Timbers 06G squad that will take part in the U19 Cascade bracket at the Rogue Memorial Challenge this weekend. (Photo by Larry Stauth Jr.)