SWC soccer teams aim to tie up loose endings

Shootouts have been a staple of Southern Oregon soccer for years, but at least one local league has abandoned that time-honored tradition this season.

In an effort to conform to how soccer matches are potentially resolved among Class 6A schools across the state, the Southwest Conference has adopted a points-based system instead of the prior mandate requiring matches be settled on the field of play with a shootout.

It's a system familiar to Sheldon and South Eugene, which played under those guidelines as members of the Midwestern League prior to reclassification last year. Three points are awarded for a win, one point for a tie and nothing for a loss.

And, like any, it's a system that carries with it inherent positives and negatives.

"As a player and being an ex-goalkeeper, I loved shootouts," says South Medford boys soccer coach Dave Kaufman, whose team plays rival North Medford at 4 p.m. today at Hoffbuhr Field. "But as a coach, with South in particular, we've kinda been snakebit in shootouts. I think we've lost just about every one we've gone to PKs (penalty kicks) with."

A shootout only comes into play after teams play to a tie through regulation and two 10-minute overtime sessions. Teams pick five players to go one-on-one with a goalkeeper on penalty kicks, with one shot to get it right or give the opposing team the upper-hand.

Some of the more dramatic moments in soccer have been played out under that intense spotlight, but shootouts often are merely a roll of the dice instead of sure-fire proof one team is better than another.

"A shootout's a really hard way to end the game for anybody," says North Medford girls soccer coach Lu Crenshaw, whose team plays South at 6 tonight at Spiegelberg Stadium. "Whether you win or lose, it's like did we really deserve it?"

In another context, imagine a basketball game played to a tie through regulation and two overtime sessions, and then decided by five players chosen to shoot free throws.

And, Crenshaw adds, shootouts can put an unnecessary toll on players during the regular season.

"We went into a bunch of shootouts last season, three in a row I think, and the girls were so tired," she says. "It's emotionally draining, it's physically draining and during league play, it's just not necessary."

Especially in a sport that's accustomed to that type of finish, adds Crenshaw.

"If you play soccer, then you've grown up at times settling for a tie," she says. "It's one of the few sports that ends in a tie, so if you're a soccer player, you know that might happen some days."

It won't happen in any other league in the Rogue Valley, however. The Class 5A Southern Sky Conference, the 4A Skyline and District 6 conferences and the 3A District 3 boys league all abide by guidelines that call for a shootout to break any and all ties. Shootouts are used at all levels for the state playoffs.

So does that mean the other leagues will have more exciting games than the SWC? Not likely.

Could the potential of a tie create a more exciting race for the SWC title? Possibly.

"The points system will, a lot of the time, create a very close, heated race," says Kaufman. "I don't know if that's necessarily going to happen with our conference, but it allows for maybe a lower level team to steal a couple points from a team that should win or is on top of the league."

"It can really play to your advantage if you can steal a point here or there, especially on the road," he adds.

While only time will tell how game plans will be established throughout the SWC, there is good reason to believe that one can expect teams to play it close to the vest in a defensive mode at some point.

But protecting a lead or leveling the playing field for an overmatched team aren't new tactics in the world of soccer, or any other sport for that matter.

SPEAKING OF CHANGES, the state high school wrestling tournament will be returning to its former home at Portland's Memorial Coliseum after three years in Salem.

The Oregon School Activities Association announced the move last week, citing the rising cost associated with the expansion of the tournament last year and the size of the State Fairgrounds venues as reasons for the move.

The tournament moved to The Pavilion at the fairgrounds for the 2005 championships shortly after the $10 million facility opened and brought an estimated economic impact of $1 million to the region.

But with the OSAA redistricting adding two classifications and expanding the tournament from around 850 wrestlers to 1,120 last year, The Pavilion — which seats fewer than 5,000 compared to a seating of 10,000 at the Coliseum — essentially became overburdened.

While fans may appreciate the larger confines of the Memorial Coliseum, reporters of the event won't enjoy the same luxury since the arena's media room is essentially the size of a nice walk-in closet.

ONCE A FIXTURE as one of the state's elite football programs at the Class 2A level, St. Mary's hasn't enjoyed much success in recent years.

But all that has seemingly changed this year, with Tim Pflug bringing a renewed enthusiasm to the Crusader program. With Saturday's 28-6 win over Gaston, St. Mary's (4-0) matched its best start to a season since Larry Walker's crew went out 4-0 in 1983 before dropping a 17-10 overtime tilt to Yoncalla in Big Fir League play.

That 1983 team, which entered the season having won 72 straight league games and eight straight Big Fir titles, went on to finish second to Yoncalla in the league race but shared the state championship with Colton after playing to a 0-0 tie. The state title proved to be the third straight for St. Mary's and fifth in six years under Walker, who also guided the Crusaders to a runner-up finish in 1980 during that span.

St. Mary's won seven state championships overall under Walker's direction and twice finished as runner-up, but since he stepped away from the program after the 1984 season, the Crusaders have managed only five winning seasons and advanced to the playoffs twice.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

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