Forging Future Oregon Ducks


We are among the fortunate here in Oregon.  We have a beautiful state filled with amazing places and people.  We are among the fortunate here in Eugene.  We have a city filled with culture and variety and a truly impressive capacity and love of sports of all forms.

While we all felt disappointment over the post Marcus Mariotta football team performance, we all felt the pride of our Men’s Basketball team making it to the Final Four.  We all cheered for our Duck Women as they entered the Sweet 16 and began crushing their competition and moving on to the Elite 8.  If you were paying attention to the Prep sports scene you cheered for the amazing performances of our newest crop of High School athletes.

Back behind the roar of the crowds, the pervasive College sports coverage, we discovered another team of note: one dedicated to fostering the very finest of skills and growth at a level rarely seen here outside of Prep and College team sports:  This is a look at the future of Oregon women’s basketball.

To give you an idea of who they are, this team won the all state competition up in Portland and are the current State of Oregon AAU Champions.  This women’s basketball team has crushed their competition in every tournament they have played in with blowout victories over more experienced, bigger and long standing teams.  This last weekend this astounding team won a tournament that pitted them against the equivalent of a Division 3 team playing a Division 1 team.  Here are just some of their accomplishments over the last couple of months:

  • OAB Champions  – Dec.17/18 2016
  • OAB Co-champions – Feb 4, 2017
  • OAB Champions – Feb 25-26 2017
  • Columbia Gorge Classic – Junior NBA Champions – March 4-5 2017
  • AAU Champions – Mar 18/19 2017
  • OAB Champions – April 15, 2017

I’m talking about the Willamette Valley Ducks.  A 5th Grade young women’s basketball team with really big dreams…National Championship dreams.

Eugene’s own 2017 Women’s 5th Grade AAU State Champions.

Two years ago these girls were playing in a YMCA league.  The spark was there, the raw talent was there, but Keith Morris, father of team forward Kayla and the girls original coach, saw an opportunity with the Amateur Athletic Union to help these young athletes reach for the next level.  He recruited Steve Schpankyn, and Ryan Hosek to assist in developing the girls skills.

Using a unique multi-head-coach arrangement, the three set out to mentor, teach and train this group of talented 5th graders into a cohesive and skilled team.  They not only accomplished this goal, they inspired these young women to rise to the top of their league.

Team founder Keith Morris

Watching the girls at practice, it was clear this group of athletes have focus.  Many of their handling drills look like what you see at the High School level; and done well.  They are a happy bunch of young women and not above a little showing off.  It’s surprising to see some of the height that these girls already have:  Cole Brown looks like she’s an inch away from joining a high school frosh team.

Somebody noticed the camera aimed her way…

Every one of the girls we spoke to expressed happiness at being on the team (and how much they loved winning).

“Last year we didn’t do so well, a lot of us had never really played on a serious team before” said Ross.

It doesn’t show.  I caught the WV Ducks AAU Championship playoff games up in Hood River and, while I’m admittedly not much of a basketball fan, I found myself cheering for the sheer intensity these girls played with.  The final game of the series was played against a team they had lost to in an earlier round.  The focus they came into the game with showed as they proceeded to shutdown the opposing team: steals, rebounds, clean shooting and great communication caused no end of frustration for their opponents.  It was easy to forget you were watching 5th graders.

Great ball handling, communication and focus are hallmarks of the WV Ducks.

Talking to team Mom and the Treasurer for the teams founding group, The Willamette Valley Basketball Association, Jenna Jacober:

Team mom Jenna Jacober with daughter and WV Ducks center Cole Brown

“We are so proud of these girls.  They play with determination and a team spirit that is really fun to watch and be a part of.  I believe that they can win the Nationals.”  Jacober said.

U of O Men’s Basketball Asst. Coach Mike Mennenga

“Most recently, Michael Mennenga Men’s Assistant Basketball Coach at University of Oregon has joined the effort. His daughter Nyla just joined the team and Coach Mennenga is very excited to be a part of our outfit and will be lending a hand with practice from time to time.” said Jacober.

Talking with Coach Steve Schpankyn about the progress the team has been making,

“We’ve all come together in the last say calendar year and the girls have found their stride and progressed, each kid is finding their momentum at different times and moments and we’ve come together as a team and a family.  This is probably the most together I’ve ever seen our team by connected.” said Schpankyn.

Coach Steve Schpankyn (and wife)

“The girls are so into their game that we actually have a hard time controlling them at practice, our practices are so physical, sometimes the girls get wrapped up in each other”, Steve said.

Watching the girls workout, it was easy to see what he was talking about.

Coach Morris gave us a little more about the decision to become a road team and compete in the AAU:

“We have great kids, we’re developing our kids, we want them to be able to live up to their potential playing against the highest level competition possible” Keith said. “All the kids are special, all the kids are learning and having fun. It’s good to see our efforts, and theirs paying off.”

It’s clear the coaches plans is a winner.

Coach Ryan Hosek agrees,

“It’s a pleasure coaching these girls, they learn quickly and have really found the inner strength required to be really good at this sport.” Hosek said.  “We are also very fortunate to have such a great coaching staff and the support of our parents and community, I’m honored to be a part of this team.”

Head Coach Ryan Hosek

Now that the WV Ducks have won the State Championship, the road gets much harder, and more expensive.  With no existing foundations to support teams like the WV Ducks, the job of funding the team and getting them to their road games falls, as it so often does, to the parents.  While all the coaches graciously donate their time, and local schools donating gym space for team practices help to keep the burden low, travelling to Ohio for the National Championships is an entirely different level of support.

In response, the WVBA registered as an Oregon 501(c)3 and immediately set out to raise funds for the girls.

If you support young women’s athletics, and would like to help see these girls give it their best to bring home the National Championship, you can lend your support at the teams GoFundMe page:


Photo Essay: OSAA 5A Girls Basketball Championship


It was déjà vu at Matthew Knight Arena for the 2013 OSAA Class 5A Girls Basketball State Championship on Saturday night, as the Willamette Wolverines and Springfield Millers—both teams from the local area—squared off in a rematch of last year’s state championships. With Springfield winning the 2012 state championship by a bizarre score of 16-7 due to a stall tactic implemented by the Wolverines, Willamette was looking to prevent the Millers from winning their third straight state championship.

All images copyright Gary Breedlove for EDN.

A Season’s End


“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, tears from the depth of some divine despair, rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, in looking on the happy autumn-fields, and thinking of the days that are no more.” — Tennyson

–Kelly Asay, EDN

Mitch Lewis with the carry (All Photos courtesy Jon Morgan)

It was an unusual, and unwelcome feeling the now 13-1 Sheldon Irishmen experienced Saturday, December 10, 2011 when The Lake Oswego Lakers came away with the OSAA 6A State Championship (47-14). Watching the 24 Irish Seniors on the field after their last high school game was as heartbreaking as the jubilation on the faces of the long title bereft Laker team and staff was inspiring. It was worth four hours in the cold sinkhole of Jeld-Wen field to watch the two terrific teams battle it out, but also to be there to experience Lakers #11 Steven Long deliver one of the most dominating performances in a championship game by a running back in the history of the state: 42 carries for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Sheldon turned in 216 yards of total offense.

All Photos courtesy Jon Morgan

It is well known that Sheldon and Lake Oswego enjoy as intense a rivalry as UO and OSU, with as many colorful upsets. This years championship game was the 8th playoff meeting between these two teams in the last 10 years. Since the beginning of the 6 class system in 2006, Sheldon is 69-8, and Lake Oswego is 63-12, with 5 of those 20 losses to each other. Sheldon and Lake Oswego are also two of the smallest schools competing in the 6A division. Sheldon is a classrooms worth of enrollment away from a 5A classification, Lake Oswego is a 5A school that elects to compete at the 6A level.

Mitch Lewis making a beautiful reception. (All Photos courtesy Jon Morgan)

In spite of the lopsided final score, the first half was a back and forth contest that ended with a Lakers field-goal, made possible by a pair of 15 yard penalties that included A facemask penalty that didn’t appear to include contact with a facemask by Sheldon, and a personal foul on the same play that appearred to be a continuation, not a dead ball foul. If anything it should have been a facemask foul against the Lakers. You can form your own opinion: around 58:57 in..

The second half was a different story and in-spite of some terrific plays on the Irish side of the ball,the inability to stop Long coupled with some costly mistakes spelled the end for the Irish. Sheldon had the ball for just 5:22 in the second half.

Irish high points include:

Tanner Zent with the quarterback sack and fumble (All Photos courtesy Jon Morgan)

First Quarter – Tanner Zent comes with a blindside smackdown on a 4th down conversion attempt; Sean Bellotti stopped a deep strike attempt by the Lakers; Dylan Lewis hits Jack Anderson causing a fumble that Lewis then recovers but the ball is ruled dead with Lewis out of bounds when he gained control.

Second Quarter – Mitch Lewis makes a beautiful catch for a 27 yard gain; on a 4th and 7 conversion attempt Miller hits Strahm in coverage for the 1st down; Carman and Strahm alternate on tough runs for a 1st and goal where Strahm walks it in for 6; Mitch Lewis brings in a first down after 2 swatted down pass attempts; Miller hits Carman for 8; Miller hits Faulhaber for a first down after some great protection from the line; Dawson Housely blows right through Steven Long and sacks Matthews for a loss of 9; and finally an entertaining hook and ladder in the final seconds of the half – ineffective, but showing some confidence.

Chet Spears with the tackle. (All Photos courtesy Jon Morgan)

First half stats: Dillon Miller 11-22, 118yards, INT, Mitch Lewis 7 carries, 36 yards; Connor Strahm 7 carries, 30 yards, 2 TDs, 2 catches, 15 yards; Mitch Lewis 3 catches, 46 yards; Mitch Carman 3 catches, 32 yards; Sean Bellotti 2 catches, 9 yards.

Third Quarter – Beautifully thrown pass by Dillon Miller intended for Joe Bando but broken up by Lake O; Chet Spears crushes through the O-Line to get Matthews in his grip – Mathews took a chance and flicked it as he was going down…for a completion; A nice 20 yard run by Mitch Lewis.

Fourth Quarter – This was a rough quarter.

Final stats: Dillon Miller 16-34, 136 yards, 2 INTs; Mitch Lewis 9 carries, 55 yards, 4 catches, 45 yards; Connor Strahm 8 carries, 36 yards, 2 TDs, 4 catches, 31 yards; Mitch Carman 3 catches, 32 yards.

As hard as it is to end a season this way, a tip of the hat to the Sheldon Irish for a memorable season and some great football.

1 Ryan Land RB,DB
2 Mitch Carman WR,DB
3 Sean Bellotti WR,DB
4 Austin Wheeler RB,LB
6 Cameron Herr RB,DB
7 Ross Cline WR,DB
8 Tyler Osborne WR,DB
9 Sam Hannah WR,DB
12 Dillon Miller QB,DB
13 Joe Spears WR,DB
16 Dawson Housley RB,LB
20 Joe Bando WR,DB
23 Luke Allender WR,DB
25 Drew Haugen WR,DB
51 Nick Ruiz-Anderson OL,DT
52 Peter Anderson OL,DE
53 Sam McCaskill OL,DE
54 Tanner Zent OL, LB
57 Kameron Canaday OL,DE
61 Connor Coleman OL,DE
66 Dale Baker OL,DT
68 Christian Nilsen OL,DE
77 Jacob Foutz OL,DT
84 Sean Ryan WR,DB

Farewell to a great pack of seniors – we’ll watch for you in College.

Last Team Standing


In a hard-fought back and forth game, The Sheldon Irish have managed to keep their undefeated record and their now 5-0 performance in OSAA semi-finals intact with the 18-9 victory over the Central Catholic Rams.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

The Irish have also kept alive the prospect of a Lane County OSAA State Championship. The Irish will battle perennial championship bridesmaids the Lake Oswego Lakers next Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field. Bridesmaids yes, but creampuffs, no; the Lakers put the Irish out of contention last year during the quarter-finals at Ludwig field with a 45-14 blowout.

Portland’s Central Catholic Rams were the underdogs going into the semi-final game, but there is no question they deserved to be there, serving up the toughest game to date for the Irish. The two teams last met in 2009 in a non-league contest where the Irish came away with a 49-13 win. Yesterday’s game was a different story with a Sheldon margin of victory of only 9 points – 39 points fewer than their highest scoring game against the North Medford Black Tornado in September, and 7 of those points coming in the final seconds of the game. Sheldon has scored the most points (594) and allowed the fewest (120) of all 43 teams in the OSAA 6A Division.

The stats coming out of this matchup were nearly identical with the Irish putting up 300 yards of offense, the Rams 286; both teams with 94 yards rushing. Ram quarterback Ben Cook completed 13 of 19 pass attempts with one interception, the Irish’s Dillon Miller threw 17 completions out of 38 attempts with 2 interceptions. The first half of the game saw strong defensive play by both teams resulting in no touchdowns and two field-goals for each team.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

The Ram’s Mitch Seeley kicked a 42 yard field goal near the end of the first quarter. The Irish’s Sean Bellotti answered with a successful 30 yarder to tie the game at the end of the quarter. Seeley put the Rams ahead with a 32 yard kick midway through the second quarter, Bellotti put up 3-points near the end of the half after a stalled Irish effort putting the Irish in a rare tie going into half-time. The Rams had an opportunity to take the lead in the final seconds of the first half, but a 39-yard field goal attempt by Seeley was blocked by Sheldon’s Dylan Lewis.

It was clear that Sheldon had made adjustments in both attitude and execution during half-time. During the first minute of the second half Sheldon’s Sam McCaskill was untouched as he brutally sacked Central Catholic quarterback Ben Cook in the end zone and forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Dawson Housely for a touchdown to put the Irish ahead for the first time at 12-6.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

Undaunted the Rams drove to the Irish 4-yard line before QB Cook was sacked on third down forcing another Seeley kick from 32 yards putting the Rams within 3-points at 12-9. The Rams continued the onslaught with outstanding athletic play from Cook and runningback Hayward Demison returning to the Irish 7 yard line where Cook was sacked by Sheldon’s #10 Conner Strahm forcing a fumble which Strahm recovered. Central Catholics hopes were put to bed when Bellotti intercepted Cook and brought the ball back to the Rams 31-yard line with 2:41 remaining. The Irish capped the game with a Strahm three yard dash for a touchdown with 35 seconds on the clock.

Ultimately the game was decided by mistakes; high snaps, miscues, missed blocks and the ability to capitalize on them. Both teams clearly wanted the win, but as has been the story all year, the Irish were more than their opponents could handle. Professional games should be this good.

The OSAA State Championship Game between our Sheldon Irish and the Lake Oswego Lakers is this Saturday, December 10 at 1pm up at Jeld-Wen field.  You may decide to catch the Ducks at the Rose Bowl on television, but plan on watching this one in person.

Sweet Victory: South Eugene High Cross Country Sweeps 6A State Championship


Nate Gartrell, EDN

South Eugene High School ended the misery two weeks ago when their cross country team blew past the competition and won the OSAA 6A State Championship titles for both the boys and girls teams. The victories ended a title-less streak that spanned a decade for the Axemen girls, and 20 years for the boys.

South Eugene runners Jack Wilson, left, Brian Eimstad, middle, and Joe Holvey, right,celebrate after completing their run. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hess

For the girls, the victory represented a vindication of sorts, after some tough losses in past years. The Axemen girls finished fourth in 2008, third in 2009, and were runners-up last year.

“We’ve been building up to this for a long time,” senior Paige Kouba, a co-captain of the girls team, said. “Every year we’ve gotten better, and we were ready to do something special. It’s wonderful to be where we are now.”

The boys’ team, meanwhile, is a senior-heavy bunch with some good junior runners in place, according to senior co-captain Brian Eimstad. Going into the tournament, Eimstad said his team expected to win, despite the fact that the Axemen hadn’t done so since 1981.

“We were, and still are, really happy that we managed to pull it off,” Eimstad explained. “Over the past couple seasons, our previous captains always talked about the possibility of winning state, even in years when it’s completely not possible.”

Both Kouba and Eimstad spoke about the closeness of the team, which celebrated together by going out for desserts after their win. In separate interviews, each took time to congratulate the other gender’s squad. They also both lavished praise onto their coach, Jeff Hess, who was placed in charge of South Eugene’s boys and girls cross country teams in 2003. Hess worked as an assistant coach to the Axemen during the girls’ 2001 championship title, and said he views his team’s victory in the context of South Eugene High’s history.

“The runners on this year’s team understand this as becoming part of the legacy of this program,” Hess claimed. “It’s not a singular accomplishment on their part, but it’s part of the long chain of great accomplishments.”

Hess has also been responsible for many other links in that chain throughout his life. As a graduate of South Eugene, Hess still holds a high school national record he set in 1979 for the steeplechase. He was also a four-time Oregon high school state champion during those years. Additionally, he’s coached Oregon high school cross country teams since 1990, starting with Glendale High before coming to South Eugene.

The Axemen cross country squad posing with their newly-won trophies, following the Nov. 5 tournament. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hess

Hess stated that, though his coaching style didn’t change drastically, he did have his team run the actual course more than he has in past years.That was easy, since the tournament was held on the Lane Community College campus (a five minute drive from South Eugene High).

“We ran three workouts out there (LCC), one a week, in the three weeks leading up to state,” Hess said. “I think that was helpful for sure.”

With respect to both Axemen teams’ chances of earning a second consecutive title next year, the boys and girls are in different places age-wise. The girls, with only two seniors, will have fewer holes to fill in the fall of 2012.

“We’ll have five of our top seven returning, and they’ll all be stronger next year,” Kouban said. “We had some phenomenal performances from our two freshmen, Sara Tsai and Phacelia Cramer, who are both just wonderfully talented.”

Meanwhile, with three of its four top 12 finishers this year graduating, the boys may have a tough time matching their performance in 2012. But Eimstad is confident in next year’s Axemen.

“I think they could do pretty well next year,” Eimstad said. “We have a lot of strong runners, juniors and sophomores, at the very top of JV.”

Regardless, these Axemen made big strides during a season that many will remember for years to come.

Irish Get Huge Road Win, Finish Regular Season Undefeated


— Alex Shoemaker, EDN

In a season finale featuring two undefeated teams, the visiting Sheldon Irish and South Medford Panthers, the Irish came away with a hard-fought 35-12 victory.

Both teams entered the game undefeated and looking for a first place seeding in the OSAA 6A High School Football playoffs.

Sheldon has an averaged score of 48-9 in their nine games this season, making for the largest margin of victory in the 6-A league. Led by coach Lane Johnson, the Irish have absolutely crushed opponents with speedy offense and a defense adapt at forcing turnovers.

On the year, Sheldon’s defense has forced 32 turnovers (21 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries) for one of the best defenses in the state of Oregon.

This game was no different, as the Irish forced six interceptions, taking three in for scores.

Sheldon scored on its opening drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Connor Strahm, his first of four touchdowns.  Two plays later, on the Panthers’ first offensive play of the game, Strahm picked off South Medford High School’s starting quarterback Jack Singler for a pick-six. The Irish led 14-0.

South Medford’s senior quarterback Jack Singler, starting quarterback and son of head coach Bill Singler, had his worst performance of the season throwing six costly interceptions.

Singler is the younger cousin of Kyle (Duke Basketball, now in the NBA) and E.J. (Oregon Ducks Basketball), part of a long lineage of Singler brothers who have stared at South Medford. Singler had only thrown two interceptions prior to Friday night’s game, but now sits at 8.

The Panthers’ star receiver, Matt Retzlaff, has been Singler’s favorite receiver, bringing in 14 touchdown catches and nearly 1,000 yards on the season.

Later in the second quarter, Singler and Matt Retzlaff connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass for the Panthers’ first score of the game. The Panthers’ extra point was blocked, bringing the score at 14-6 at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the Panthers’ returned Sean Bellotti’s punt 60 yards all the way down to the 13-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Singler sneaked the ball in from the 1-yard line.

Bellotti is the son of former University of Oregon head coach and athletic director Mike Bellotti.

A failed two-point conversion to tie the game brought the score to a 14-12 Irish lead.

With 35.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Strahm took a direct snap from the 6-yard line in for a score putting the Irish up 21-12.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Singler threw his fourth interception of the game, giving the Irish great field position once again. Later in the Irish’s drive, quarterback Dillon Miller and Strahm connected for another score to put the Irish up 28-12 with eight minutes remaining in the game.

Sheldon’s star quarterback, Dillon Miller, has been near perfect all season long, passing for over 2,500 yards on the season with 27 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.

The Irish have been loaded with great quarterbacks over the past decade, most notably being 2003 graduate, Alex Brink, who stared at Washington State and was eventually drafted by the Houston Texans in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

With 18.9 seconds left, Sheldon’s Ivan Faulhaber picked off Singler’s last interception of the game to put the final nail in the coffin. Sheldon 35-12.

Sheldon’s Strahm spoke after the game about the great balance of the Irish in the game.

“We did great,” Strahm said. “An overall team effort. Everyone did great – the D-line, Dillon (Miller), everyone.”

Miller says that with a bye week, the team will use the time to rest up, get healthy and prepare for whomever they play. The 35-12 score may make it appear as if the game was lopsided, but costly turnovers and crucial mistakes were what led to an Irish victory.

“Can we get better? We can always get better,” Strahm said. “There’s a lot left to be played.”

At 9-0 (7-0), the Irish will finish either No. 1 or No. 2 in the OSAA rankings, affecting the playoff bracket positioning. South Medford, now 8-1 (6-1), will also earn a spot in the playoffs, likely finishing in the seeding around 5-6.

Round 1 of the state playoffs begins November 11th.