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OSAA 'culminating week' offers SOC reunion

The Southern Oregon Conference is getting back together.

For the next few months, at least.

As a result of the shortened seasons and the Oregon School Activities Association not holding state playoffs for Season 2 sports — and potentially beyond — local athletic directors have decided to take advantage of the culminating week they now have available to them. That involves bringing the SOC back, and creating a league championship for both the regular season and in a postseason tournament.

“We had just agreed from the get-go that with no postseason, we would just create our own postseason tournament,” Ashland athletic director Karl Kemper said. “I made up the bracket and said, ‘Let’s do it.’

“It’s simple because it’s a simple bracket, and then with the extra week having a whole week to complete games, whatever sport you’re in it gives you ample time to do that.”

Due to the pandemic, local 6A and 5A teams have, for the most part, kept their respective schedules as close to home as they could to cut down on travel and possible exposure to COVID-19. That was something that was emphasized by OSAA executive director Peter Weber when plans were announced for a Season 2 culminating week on Feb. 18.

That means for most of the Season 2 sports, much of their regular-season schedules already look like the old SOC slate.

Each of the Season 2 sports will have their own unique way of handling the culminating week, with most taking part in a seven-team tournament to provide more of a proper end to the season. The format for the end-of-season tournaments will follow the same kind of format as early season basketball tournaments with winners’ and losers’ bracket.

For soccer and volleyball, there will be end-of-season tournaments taking place. That is possible due to the OSAA allowing teams to play more games with the addition of the culminating week.

Boys and girls soccer, which now has a cap of 12 games, will each take part in a seven-team tournament on Tuesday, April 6, Thursday, April 8 and Saturday, April 10. Each school will play a minimum of two games in the tournament.

Due to current COVID-19 restrictions in Josephine County as a result of the current “extreme risk” classification, the regular season for volleyball was pushed back into the culminating week. That means the SOC’s end-of-season volleyball tournament will be conducted on one day, April 10. All games will take place at Crater High School.

Seeding for each of the tournaments will be determined by regular-season standings..

“We had to wait to make sure there was no state playoffs, and then once that happened it was like how can we maximize the week and get the most games possible,” Crater athletic director David Heard said. “The thing we came up with was have a league tournament and have a league champion in team sports.”

There will also be a regional meet for boys and girls cross-country that will take place on April 3.

Although there will be no tournament for football, local teams are now able to play a sixth game this spring with the addition of the culminating week — which some schools have already scheduled while others are still trying to find an opponent.

According to Kemper, there are plans in place to conduct similar end-of-season tournaments for Season 3 and 4 team sports — namely baseball, softball and basketball — if there is a need for them.

In announcing a Season 2 culminating week, the OSAA said: “The decision on Season 2 has no bearing on championship plans for Seasons 3 and 4. The OSAA will review options for those seasons in the coming months.”

“OSAA is going season-to-season as to whether there is going to be postseason — which is something I really appreciate because things can change as we all know now,” Kemper said. “If we’re able to do baseball and softball playoffs, then we should do them at some level. But the hard thing to figure out — and we’ve talked about this — is how you would even qualify because we’re in different leagues and we’re a hybrid (league) with different classifications.”

Besides taking advantage of the increased maximum number of games each team can play during Season 2, giving athletes more of a regular type of ending to their respective sports seasons was key for athletic directors during the creation of the tournament.

If there are no state playoffs being held, the goal was to try and provide the next best thing.

And with it came the return of the SOC.

“To have all-conference teams like we would have any other year, to have a regular-season champion and then go into a tournament where you can be the league tournament champion even if you didn’t win the league, that’s kind of fun, like the NCAA tournament or the Pac-12 tournament,” Heard said. “You can still win that tournament and have something to brag about.”

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