It has been an off-the-charts school year for area high school athletes.
And many of them will be under one roof June 7 for the first Mid-Valley Sports Awards at the Salem Convention Center, featuring NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
A look at the numbers tells an intriguing tale. There will be about 50 finalists in Athlete of the Year categories representing 19 sports, in addition to Statesman Journal Athletes of the Week, and three Coach of the Year finalists. We’re talking about a distinguished list.
The decision-making process to select our three finalists in each sport, along with a boys and girls athlete of the year, has been so difficult that it would have been easy to extend the list.
A telling example is Scio’s Anthony Johnson. The senior running back broke the single-season state rushing record previously held by Aloha’s Thomas Tyner, who went on to a solid collegiate football career at Oregon that was cut short due to injuries.
Johnson ran for 3,609 yards last season, averaged 15.3 yards per carry, scored 48 touchdowns, and led Scio to the 3A state semifinals. But he did not make the finalist list for football player of the year that includes Central junior lineman Marlon Tuipulotu, the 5A defensive player of the year; Cascade senior running back Garrett Coffey, who ran for 2,548 yards and 30 touchdowns, helping the Cougars win the 4A state title; and South Salem senior quarterback Gabe Matthews, who passed for 35 touchdowns and ran for 11 scores in leading the Saxons to the Greater Valley Conference title.
If you want sustained excellence, how about the South Salem girls basketball team?
Not only did the Saxons repeat as 6A state champions, but junior guard Evina Westbook made it back-to-back player of the year recipients from South Salem, joining Katie McWilliams from last season’s squad. McWilliams recently completed her freshman season at Oregon State and was a key contributor on the Beavers first Final Four squad.
South coach Nick McWilliams, Katie’s dad, is one of our three finalist for coach of the year, joining Steve Turner (Cascade football) and Scott Spink (Dayton girls basketball).
And as compelling as the Saxons’ championship was this season, you can’t overlook the Silverton girls basketball team that won the 5A state crown, finishing the season as the state’s only unbeaten team at any level.
The Foxes trailed by double-digits against Corvallis in the state semifinals and rallied for a dramatic 37-36 victory on senior wing Alia Parsons’ game-winning layup, and that was followed by another fourth-quarter comeback in a 39-38 victory over Springfield in the state championship game.
“Our motto the whole year was ‘find a way,’” said Parsons, the lone senior on the roster, who is headed to Grand Canyon University on a basketball scholarship. “We had to find a way no matter what.”
South Salem’s Elijah Schwartz found a way to receive his invite to the Mid-Valley Sports Awards without producing gaudy numbers on the hardwood. Schwartz and fellow senior teammate Damian Moe were cut from the boys basketball team their previous three seasons and served as student managers.
Their perseverance was rewarded. This season in the GVC-clinching win against North Salem, they were in the starting lineup and both made 3-pointers.
“This year they gave me a jersey and I can’t believe I made it,” said Schwartz, a finalist for the Heart and Desire Award. “It felt good. I love this team. I love the coaches. I love these players. I love South.”
The Saxons went on to place third in the 6A boys state tournament.
Many of our award candidates excel in more than one sport.
Central’s Tuipulotu is a finalist for player of the year in football and wrestling, and boys athlete of the year. Not only was Tuipulotu a force on the gridiron, but he was a state champion wrestler in the heavyweight division.
Kennedy senior Lakin Susee was a first-team all-state selection in girls basketball and led the Trojans to the 2A state championship; she was honored as a first-team all-state selection in volleyball and is a finalist for volleyball player of the year. Susee is currently competing as a high jumper on the track team.
“She will be greatly missed and she’s probably one of the best athletes to ever come out of Kennedy,” girls basketball co-head coach Kerry Hall said.
In terms of team success across the board, Cascade stands out.
The Cougars were crowned 4A state champs in football with Coffee a finalist for player of the year and coach Steve Turner a finalist for coach of the year, sophomore guard Halle Wright is a finalist for girls basketball player of the year after leading Cascade to the state championship game, sophomore Brooklynn Petterson is a finalist for girls soccer player of the year, and Cascade is a finalist for the fan experience award.
“At this moment in time we are very fortunate to have an outstanding group of student-athletes and phenomenal coaches at Cascade,” said Heidi Hermansen, athletic director and assistant principal at Cascade.
Sixteen of our nominees in fall and winter sports have either signed national letters of intent or made verbal commitments to continue their athletic careers in college, with more expected to come in spring sports.
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6726 or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
Mid-Valley Sports Awards
The Mid-Valley Sports Awards will be June 7 at the Salem Convention Center. NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice will be the guest speaker. The players of the year, athletes of the week, and three area athletes and a high school (in four new categories) will be honored. For more information and tickets, go to http://midvalleysportsawards.com.