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With the close of the fall season, which ushered in new classifications, the Independent reflects on the changes it brought

With the football championship games this past weekend, the fall sports season is officially over.

This fall ushered in a new order of sorts in the form of classification changes. All five public high schools in northern Marion County were affected.

It probably wouldn't be accurate to make a blanket statement that the new classification makeup is a success, but it certainly had its promising moments, and has given us an inkling of what we can expect in the winter and spring sports seasons.

Of course, we can't blame all the successes and failures of the 2018 fall season on the reclassification instituted by the Oregon School Activities Association. Like every year, teams are transformed with new blood or are recovering from the loss of strong leadership. Teams not only had to relearn how to work together, but were forced to do so in what was for many unfamiliar territory.

Here's a brief look at what we learned in the 2018 fall sports season in northern Marion County.

Woodburn

Dropped from 5A to 4A

Football: The poster child for a team that thrived in dropping down in classification has got to be the Woodburn football team. With solid upperclassmen leadership and a competitive schedule, suddenly Woodburn has slowly leaned back toward being a football town.

It's unclear how competitive the team would be without transfers like RJ Veliz, Dyontae Navarrete and Nate Corpuz, but all three were Woodburn products, returning home to play for the Bulldogs.

One thing is clear: Bringing Woodburn football down to 4A made games exciting, and when you can pump up the crowds enough to fill the stands and energize a team that otherwise saw a winless season, you're on to something.

Girls soccer: The same is true for the girls soccer program, which needed this very thing to revamp the program. Reclassification breathed life into this program, which saw its first postseason win and first state playoff berth in more than a decade.

Boys soccer: What made the classification a godsend for the football team was an Achilles heel to the 4A when it came to boys soccer. Woodburn soccer has maintained the longest playoff run in state history for any sport (33 years in a row) so it was no surprise when the team effortlessly not only made it to the playoffs, but clinched a third state title in a row.

While it's easy to pooh-pooh the OSAA changes because of how exceptional of a soccer team Woodburn is, bear in mind that while they played at the top of their league, they didn't completely shut out everyone. Stayton proved that even Woodburn isn't invincible, defeating the Bulldogs in a regular season game 1-0.

Still, we'd like to see more discussion about individual teams moving in different classifications in order to remain competitive, or at least giving the option to petition. It happens in football occasionally, so why not soccer? And if they have so many special districts within each classification anyway, what does it matter if Woodburn plays soccer at the 5A level (or 6A?) and football at 4A?

North Marion

Stayed at 4A

Boys Soccer: This year's boys soccer team was a stable group of strong players, yet its rise to the state championship was a Cinderella story of sorts. The Huskies repeatedly took down the state's best teams in the playoffs, and its hard not to think of what could have been if North Marion had faced Valley Catholic or Madras in the championship game.

But North Marion showed it was more than capable of rising to the level of competition against Woodburn, and their efforts on defense showed what amazing endurance and fortitude these players had built. Perhaps our wish for Woodburn soccer to go back to 5A is selfish in that we wanted to see both local teams walk away with a state title.

Gervais

Dropped from 3A to 2A

The Gervais football and volleyball teams largely saw little change from the school's shift from 3A to 2A this year. The football team struggled to compete against more experienced programs and the volleyball team challenged for league playoffs.

If anything, the move showed that the difference in competition between 3A and 2A schools is often close to negligible.

Kennedy

Stayed at 2A

Volleyball: The Kennedy girls dominated the field during the regular season and were the favorites to make the title game heading into the state quarterfinal tournament. Yet they proved to be fallible, falling in heartbreaking fashion in the semifinals and finishing the season in fifth place.

Football: Reclassification had perhaps the biggest impact for Kennedy on the football field, where the Sheridan Spartans dropped from 3A to 2A and dominated the regular season, beating the Trojans 44-7 on their way to the Tri-River title. But perhaps it worked to Kennedy's advantage, as a solid, stable team pushed through the regular season, upended the Spartans in the quarterfinals and went on to win its first state championship ever.

Cross Country: It was a banner season for Kennedy, as Alejandra Lopez became the first cross country runner in more than 30 years to bring home an individual state title.

St. Paul

Dropped from 2A to 1A

Volleyball: After conditioning the team to be competitive at 2A (the team came in fourth place at state last year), St. Paul volleyball rose to the occasion and bumped off the competition to win the state championship for the first time in school history. There's certainly an argument that the Buckaroos could have — and should have — stayed at the 2A level. The Bucks were unparalleled this season on the volleyball court, going unbeaten and winning all but four sets this year.

But it's easy to forget that they beat an equally formidable Powder Valley team in the finals that had been undefeated up to that point.

Football: A powerhouse team that shrunk from 11-man to 8-man football, St. Paul was like a hurricane, flattening nearly anyone in its path. But by doing so, it gave four-time champion Dufur some competition for the first time.

With both football and volleyball, St. Paul's move down to the 1A Classification showed that while the overall field of quality teams is much better at the 2A level, the top tier teams in the 1A are every bit as talented as those in the classification above.

***

So what's our takeaway from this fall sports season?

Reclassification is a monumentally difficult task when you're taking into account hundreds of schools and thousands of athletes. It's impossible to get it 100 percent correct, so we're actually impressed with the parity we saw.

This is especially true with Woodburn and St. Paul dropping down but still being challenged and still being shown that just because you're in a lower classification, that doesn't mean the top tier competition is below average.

We look forward to seeing what the new classification system has in store for our winter and spring athletes.

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