ASHLAND — The first head men’s soccer and women’s wrestling coaches in Southern Oregon University history will be Biniam Afengus and Tony Champion, SOU Director of Athletics Matt Sayre announced on Monday.
Afengus will lead the Raider men’s soccer program following eight seasons in the same role at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash. Champion, who was a three-time national champion in his wrestling days at Portland State, has been the head coach at Ashland High the last three seasons.
Both will begin recruiting immediately for the programs’ inaugural campaigns set for the 2015-16 school year.
“We’re extremely pleased with the quality of coaches and people we’ve added to the athletic department and can’t wait to have them around,” Sayre said. “They’ll have a lot of work to do just filling the rosters in such a short time, but after some thorough searches I’m confident these are the right people to entrust with that responsibility.”
Afengus, 38, amassed a record of 123-27-16 at Clark, winning one Northwest Athletic Conference championship and five NWAC South Region titles. He was the NWAC South coach of the year five times and the NWAC coach of the year twice
As a player at Concordia University, Afengus earned NAIA first-team all-region accolades in 1998 before receiving a bachelor’s degree in physical education. He also obtained a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in P.E. from Concordia.
“My first reaction when (Sayre) called to offer the job was just — wow. There’s a lot of excitement to be a part of what’s going on at SOU,” Afengus said. “I really want to thank him and everyone else in the department for this great opportunity. My family is excited to become part of the Raider family for many years.”
SOU’s will be one of seven men’s soccer programs competing in the Cascade Conference for the first time in 2015: Multnomah (Wash.) and Walla Walla (Wash.) were admitted by the CCC as full members last summer (though Multnomah is still awaiting approval of its NAIA application); Carroll (Mont.), Great Falls (Mont.) and Rocky Mountain (Mont.) were recently granted associate membership for soccer and softball; and Eastern Oregon will have a first-year program, too.
The CCC had eight men’s soccer teams in 2014 but will lose Concordia to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference of the NCAA Division II level next season. Concordia had won 14 conference titles since 1998, including the 2014 title.
“I see this as being one of the top programs in the Cascade Conference and in the NAIA down the road,” Afengus said. “But right now I have zero players so I’m on the phone and emailing 24/7. I want to set a foundation we can build on year after year, and that obviously makes this first part really important.”
Afengus holds a United States Soccer Federation National “A” license and was a high school coach before taking over at Clark. As recently as last summer, he was also the head coach of the Vancouver Victory, which competes in the newly-formed Evergreen Premier League for collegiate and post-collegiate athletes.
Afengus was born in Eritrea, Africa, and his family relocated to Spokane, Wash., when he was a child. He and his wife, Irene, have three children: Ahmon, Cierra and Elijah.
With the hiring of Champion, Raider men’s wrestling head coach Mike Ritchey will gain another title — director of wrestling — as he oversees both programs.
Champion, 45, is a member of the Portland State Athletics Hall of Fame. He was a part of two NCAA Division II title teams with the Vikings and an All-American all four years.
At Ashland High, he brought five female wrestlers onto the team last season and started this season with seven. Among the 2013-14 group was Sadie Bailey, who won a state championship and is currently a wrestler and soccer player at Southwestern Oregon Community College.
“I think getting this job is an absolute great honor, and I’m very humbled by it,” Champion said. “I also think SOU is a spot that can be a springboard for women’s wrestling. There’s definitely a market and I believe it’s going to expand exponentially in the future.”
Among other schools in the region that have recently added women’s wrestling are Menlo (Calif.), Pacific (Ore.), Simon Fraser (B.C.) and Warner Pacific (Ore.). Women's wrestling is not yet an NAIA-sponsored activity but is one of the fastest growing sports in intercollegiate athletics.
“I’ve taken the same mentality that I use to train boys and implemented it with females,” Champion said. “They appreciate being given that same respect, especially in what’s been such a male-dominant sport. In my experience, they’ve all felt like they have something to prove and usually work harder than most of the boys because of it.”
Champion said he hopes to get 12 to 15 wrestlers on the roster in his first year and up to 30 a few years down the road.
Champion also works as a commodity broker at ICCI in Medford. He is engaged to be married to Sami Jo Hile and has two daughters: Madison, a sophomore at the University of Missouri, and McKenzie, a senior at Archbishop O’Hara High in Kansas City, Mo.