In the Bleachers with Billy

So I’m a little late to the party when it comes to revealing my thoughts on the top local sports stories of last year, 2013.

Better late than never, right?

Last year was my first full calendar year at the sports desk for the Pioneer, and what a year it was. There were triumphs, disappointments, tears of joy and sadness and a whole bunch of notable performances by teams and individuals. The idea is to limit myself to picking just five, but I’m not exactly sure I can do that. It seemed every season, including when school was out for summer, had something big happen. From wrestling to swimming, baseball to volleyball and literally everything in between, Jefferson County had a great 2013 when it came to athletics.

I’m going to start with the No. 5 story on my list and work my way down to the top of the heap. A little unconventional, sure, but I just want to keep you on your toes. Something like that, anyway.

So without further adieu, here’s my list. I’ll add some honorable mentions on at the end after I reveal my top story of the year (I’ll give you a hint, the top story involves a hole in the ground that is also another word for “billiards”).

At No. 5 on my list of top local sports stories of 2013, I’ll go with the Madras High School volleyball team going undefeated in Tri-Valley Conference play under first-year head coach Rhea Cardwell.

The start of the season was a bit of a struggle for the Buffs on the floor, but that struggle came against some of the best teams Class 4A (and all of Oregon, for that matter) had to offer. After a 1-9 nonconference match record, and adjusting to Cardwell’s new system and coaching style, the Buffs tore through the TVC like a strongman tears through a phonebook. A perfect 10-0 mark by the Buffs not only earned them an outright league title after sharing it with Estacada last season, it helped produce two all-state selections.

Junior outside hitter Shelby Mauritson ended the season as the TVC player of the year and a first-team all-state pick. Junior middle blocker Alexis Urbach was a first-team all-conference selection, and earned a spot on the all-state second team.

Crook County, the seven-time Class 4A volleyball champs, will join the TVC next season. I expect nothing less than knock-down, drag-out league matches between the Cowgirls and Buffs next year.

Like the kids say, they will be totally epic.

Sliding in at the No. 4 hole are some little kids.

The success of two Jefferson County Little League teams gets the spot that’s traditionally reserved for the team’s best hitter in the lineup.

On the baseball diamond, the JCLL 50-70 intermediate ballclub, skippered by Phil Fine, won a state championship and advanced to the regional tournament in Irvine, Calif. in July. What a ride that was for the kids and families.

I’ve been part of teams that have gone to state in Babe Ruth Baseball (I’m dating myself with that one) and high school, but unfortunately never part of a state title-winning club. The way the baseball team had to win the state title was pretty impressive, too. They had to topple the big, bad city kids from Portland twice, and after the urban seamers pounded on them like sand in their first meeting. Resilience and determination are amazing things.

The team fought, scratched, clawed and played their way into state Little League history. If the group of ballplayers stay together and keep playing, I think there could be some more White Buffalos bringing home more trophies.

The junior softball team’s run at state was ended sooner than they had hoped, but it was still an impressive one. After coming through the elimination bracket in district play to win the tournament, the JCLL softballers nearly did the same thing at state. The team went 7-1 in elimination games throughout districts and state and always seemed to find themselves in every game they played. It was remarkable for that team to respond how they did after being pushed to the brink so many times. Like their baseball counterparts, softball in Madras has a bright future if the kids continue to play together.

No. 3 on this list goes to the Culver High School volleyball team and their third-place run at the Class 2A volleyball tournament in November.

Following the semifinal loss to Days Creek (a team that was playing at such a high level I think they could have given Crook County a run for their money), there were tears and broken hearts. After winning the whole enchilada in 2012, the goal was to do it again. In the end, it didn’t work out, but how the team bounced back and took care of a very good Weston-McEwen team — in straight sets, even — was outstanding.

I enjoyed watching all the volleyball in Jefferson County this season, but watching Culver reminded me a lot of watching my sister’s team play (in the late 90s). I know I’ve covered it in a column before, but watching this year’s Culver team play was like hitting a fast forward button on the teams my sister was on. There were just so many similarities that made me feel a litlte nostalgic every time I watched them play. It was a lot of fun, too.

We’re going to go with another Culver Bulldog team at No. 2, and that would be the men of the mats, the wrestling team.

Culver won the Oregon Wrestling Classic for the eighth straight season, and they mowed through the field at the district tournament like they always do, but their bid for a seventh consecutive state title fell just a bit short.

Lowell’s loaded lineup got the best of the Bulldogs last February at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, and I’ll admit, it was a little tough to see a streak like that go down. Everyone wants to be successful, but few put in the time and effort to make it happen. The Culver wrestling team puts that time in, and then does it some more just to make sure they worked hard enough.

Jared Kasch picked up his fourth state title of his illustrious career, and my hat is off to him. That’s not an easy thing to do. Through Culver’s rich history on the mat, he was only the second Bulldogs to ring up quadruple gold. Could Tucker Davis become the third Bulldog to do it after his second straight title last year? He’s halfway there, and barring injury, I think he has about as good of shot as anyone to do it.

The Bulldogs are primed to “get their trophy back” as head coach J.D. Alley told me earlier in the season. With the additions to this year’s team, they’ve got a real shot to bring the big hardware back to its home inside the walls of CHS.

And for the top local sports story of 2013, a drumroll please.

Now that you’ve made yourself look silly by making the drumroll noise, hopefully in front of others, I’ll tell you what I’ve pegged at the top (or bottom?) of the list.

It’s the Madras High School boys swim team claiming the Class 4A-1A state title in just its fourth year of existence. What an incredible accomplishment.

The success in the relay events, along with Bryce Williams winning an individual state championship, carried the Buffs to their golden perch at the top of the podium. Head coach Bobby DeRoest was named the small school coach of the year for the state of Oregon, and rightfully so. Not a lot of team make postseason play or state meets after just starting a program. It sometimes takes years, more than anyone wants, but not for the Buffs.

This is a team that would rather run two practices a day during the winter break than take it easy. That’s a main reason why they swim faster than most of the other kids in Oregon. They put the time and effort in to be great, and the results are holding up a big trophy at the end of the day when your shoulders want to explode and legs want to turn into jelly.

And let’s not forget Sophie Gemelas’ state title in the 200-yard individual medley for the Madras girls swim team. Another fantastic accomplishment, and I think the girls team could possibly snag a trophy from this year’s event.

The boys have one thing on their mind, and that’s to bring home a trophy that matches last year’s.

So there you go, there’s my list. It could be 20 or 25 items long, but you don’t have the time to read my ramblings and I don’t the stamina at the keyboard to do it (my fingers already hurt). I wanted to focus on achievements that happened on the field, court, in the pool or whatever surface teams play on. And I wanted to be local athletes that play and practice in Jefferson County.

I know Jacoby Ellsbury won his second World Series with the Boston Red Sox, and then signed a nine-figure contract with the New York Yankees. It’s obviously a huge story, just not for this list. The same goes for building the new football and track facility at MHS. It’s a great story, but I will highlight it when I can run (read: pull my hamstrings) on it this fall.

I’m sure other folks will having differing opinions, and that’s great. Be passionate about your favorite teams and players and support them through the good times and the bad. That’s what high school athletics are about, and that’s how they thrive in today’s society.

Here’s hoping 2014 is just as good as 2013 was.

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