Abigail Brown and Cassidy Lewis
Abigail Brown, right, gives a celebratory hug to teammate Cassidy Lewis. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Philomath High’s sports team had a stellar 2021-22 academic year with 16 of the 19 programs represented in state tournaments, playoffs and meets. Along with academic excellence, the Warriors won the OSAA Cup for the second time in its history.

City Council’s close election chosen as top story of the year

Around election time, advertisements on television, printed publications and online sites urge people to cast their ballots. “Every vote counts” is an often-heard phrase in an effort to increase voter turnout. In Philomath, that couldn’t have been more true. The City Council election came down to a single vote for the sixth and final seat…

Year in Review: Top 10 sports stories of 2021

Philomath High School athletics seem to be in a pretty good place. Over the past 12 months, the Warriors won state titles in boys soccer and girls tennis, settled for runner-up in girls basketball and boys cross-country, and had individual champions in wrestling and track and field. In the fall, every one of Philomath High’s…

As such, coming up with a list of the top 10 sports stories was not an easy task. The teams that won state championships were easy choices — girls basketball and girls track and field reaching those accomplishments. Boys cross-country missed out on a state title by three points and the girls cross-country squad also had a runner-up finish.

Then there are those teams that battled through some sort of challenge to finish with exceptional records — the baseball team’s comeback season and the boys basketball team’s strong finish at the 4A tournament both come to mind. The wrestling team had a memorable season as well by taking fourth at state with six wrestlers winning medals.

Individually, Sage Kramer is a once-in-a-generation type of basketball player that had to be included. And the inaugural class of the PHS Hall of Fame featured a moving ceremony that highlighted some of the best from the school’s long history.

Here are the top 10 sports stories of the year as chosen by the Philomath News:

The Philomath High School girls basketball team: 2021-22 state champions. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

1. Girls basketball team hoists 4A championship trophy

The sound of the final buzzer echoing through Marshfield High’s gymnasium on the evening of March 12 set off a crazy celebration. The players jumped for joy and fell into a heap near midcourt. The student section erupted and rushed the floor. Coaches and managers hugged one another. Parents and fans cheered and captured the moment on cell phones.

Philomath High’s girls basketball team had finally done it. The Class 4A state championship belonged to the Warriors.

“I’m just so happy for those girls, you know, I’m proud of them,” PHS coach Ben Silva, his voice cracking, said afterward. “They worked hard.”

Philomath led most of the way and held off Corbett all night in a 46-35 victory for the program’s fourth state title and first since 2000.

“We weren’t a state championship team in December — that’s the truth. We talked about it as a group and they know it as well, we weren’t,” Silva said. “Nobody is, I suppose, in December but they put the work in that it took to get here.”

Philomath (22-4), the No. 1 seed and Oregon West Conference champions, rolled to double-digit wins over Henley, Mazama and Hidden Valley in the earlier rounds. The Warriors were favored all along to capture the top trophy. But then there was a Corbett (23-4), a bit of a mystery team as a No. 11 seed that just kept winning. The Cardinals had finished third in the Tri-Valley Conference and beat Sisters in a play-in game just to join the state playoff field.

When Corbett’s 5-foot-7 forward, Ella Holwege, launched a long 3-pointer in the opening seconds, you had to wonder for a moment if the Cardinals were going to end up as some sort of team of destiny to complete an improbable postseason run.

But as the first quarter’s minutes passed by, the better team appeared to be taking control. As it turned out, Philomath was the team of destiny.

“We had to come out with a lot of intensity and come out really strong and we did that,” said senior Sage Kramer, who scored 23 points and was a unanimous choice for the all-tournament team. “We crashed the boards, we got 50-50 balls and did a really good job of finding each other and being smart and strong.”

Philomath High celebrates with the state championship trophy on Saturday at Hayward Field. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

2. Young Warriors squad win state title in girls track and field

Before track and field season started this spring, Philomath coach Joe Fulton knew he had a group of talented freshman girls on his hands. They had shown a lot of athletic skill in preseason workouts but at the time, he wasn’t completely sure if his youngest athletes could bring that level of competitiveness into an actual meet.

That’s coming from a coach with decades of experience developing athletes.

Said Fulton, “The girls were so much fun to work with because you’re innocent and you’re hungry and they wanted to see what they can do.”

What they did on May 20-21 at the Class 4A Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene was to overwhelm the competition to win the program’s fifth state title in Philomath High history — the others coming in 1990, 1991, 1995 and 2010.

Freshmen Janice Hellesto, Natalie Dunn and Anneka Steen all had heavy contributions to the team’s point total to go along with a memorable meet in the field events by senior Sage Kramer and high finishes in the hurdling events by junior Ingrid Hellesto. Sophomore Ellie Morton and senior Haviland Eves were in the mix as well with participation on the short relay.

It all added up to 87 points with Philomath taking the title by 18 points over runner-up Marist Catholic.

Kramer’s performance over the two-day meet was notable with first-place medals in both the javelin and shot put, along with a fourth in the discus. The shot put victory, however, was unique and will go down in PHS sports history as one of the most improbable accomplishments. She tried the shot put for the first time in competition only a few weeks earlier.

Janice Hellesto and Dunn had a 1-2 finish in the 400-meter dash to give the Warriors major points. Steen, Ingrid Hellesto, Dunn and Janice Hellesto won the 4-by-400 relay to end the meet with a time of 4:03.64, just a hundredth of a second shy of a full 4 seconds over runner-up Cascade.

The OSAA Cup sits on a table with various team trophies at an Oct. 7 assembly. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

3. Philomath High wins the OSAA Cup for 2nd time in its history

On the strength of three state championships, high finishes by several other programs and an exceptional academic record, Philomath High School won the 2021-22 OSAA Cup.

Philomath compiled 3,052.5 points with Valley Catholic second at 2,614.15 and Marist Catholic third at 2,566.25. Valley Catholic and Marist have both performed very well in the Cup standings over the years with several top trophies.

“This is a reflection of the dedication and excellence of our students as well as our coaches and teaching staff,” Athletic Director Tony Matta said.

Philomath won state titles in boys soccer, girls basketball and girls track and field. The girls cross-country team missed a state title by one point and had to settle for second. The volleyball team finished third and both the boys basketball and wrestling teams placed fourth. The baseball team reached the semifinals for a top-four finish. Various other programs also saw success in the postseason.

Philomath High’s first and only other OSAA Cup came in 2010-11. That year, the Warriors outdistanced runner-up Scappoose. Philomath had state championships in boys cross-country and boys track and field along with the PHS band’s third-place finish at state.

The school celebrated its OSAA Cup with a special assembly in the fall.

Sage Kramer takes a turn at cutting down the net. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

4. Sage Kramer finishes stellar career at PHS

On the Class 4A girls basketball stage in 2021-22, nobody was better than Sage Kramer. The Philomath High School senior was by far the top scorer at the state basketball tournament despite playing at less than 100% after an ankle sprain in the quarterfinals. She averaged nearly 21 points per game and helped the Warriors to the state title.

Kramer etched her name in the record books for her accomplishments with the Warriors’ girls basketball program. On Feb. 8 against Woodburn, she broke the school record for most points in a game with 51.

“It’s just a number, you know?” she said. “I’m just thanking God and just super blessed to have gotten the record.”

The performance fell one point short of the Class 4A record and five points shy of the all-class record. She is one of only 16 players in Oregon girls basketball history to score 50 points in a game. Kramer’s 24 points in the second quarter of the game broke the all-class record and her 36 points in a half tied a state record set in 1982. And her 23 field goals set a new state record for any classification.

Kramer is also in the record books permanently for being one of only four players to shoot 100% in a game when she hit 16 of 16 shots in a 2020 road win over Sisters.

In her final season with PHS, Kramer averaged 23.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. She was named player of the year by the Oregon West Conference and in Class 4A.

In an all-star game against a team from Washington, she led Oregon scorers with 20. She is now playing college basketball for Westmont (California).

Ben Hernandez runs past assistant coach Tyler Thomas as he approaches the final turn. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

5. Boys cross-country team misses state title by 3 points

In a showdown between the top two 4A teams in boys cross-country, The Dalles survived a strong challenge from Philomath to claim first place. The Warriors had to settle for second after finishing just three points behind the winners in the final team standings.

“We didn’t know anything about The Dalles, we hadn’t seen them all year,” Philomath High’s veteran cross-country coach, Joe Fulton, said after the team accepted the second-place trophy. “They just came down from 5A and I was worried. … but I think we did a fairly good job. I mean, I’d rather they’d be first but I’m OK with second.”

The PHS boys have finished as the state runner-up 10 times in program history (and that’s counting second place at the 4A Showcase during the 2020-21 pandemic season).

The Warriors placed four runners among the top 16 and compiled 60 points as a team — a number that’s usually good enough for a state championship. The Dalles had four runners in the top 19 but its fifth runner placed 23rd, two spots and 4.1 seconds ahead of Philomath’s fifth runner.

Ben Hernandez wrapped up a memorable senior season with a fifth-place finish overall in 16:26.9. Senior Mateo Candanoza completed his successful high school cross-country career with a top-10 showing with ninth in 16:46.2. Senior Brody Bushnell finished 14th and freshman Leo Pausch was 16th.

The PHS girls cross-country team accepts the 4A runner-up trophy. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

6. Philomath’s girls cross-country team finishes as 4A runner-up

Sophomore Adele Beckstead placed fifth and the Warriors got top-20 performances from freshman Ana Candanoza and senior Ingrid Hellesto to help Philomath to a second-place finish at the Class 4A State Championships on Nov. 5 at Lane Community College in Eugene.

Beckstead, Philomath’s top individual runner all season, came in with a time of 19:42.6.

“I’m pretty tired … there was lots of competition today. I was just trying to go out and run more consistently,” said Beckstead, who earned first-team all-state honors with the finish.

Candanoza placed 17th in 20:52.1.

“I think the first mile was pretty fast and the second one seemed really long,” Candanoza said. “I was just focused on trying to get to the end. It wasn’t my best race but there are a lot of fast runners here.”

Hellesto’s final appearance at the state meet included a memorable sprint to the finish. In fact, she nearly passed Candanoza but ended up two-hundredths of a second behind her for 18th in 20:52.3.

“I was really hoping my last senior race was going to be a good one, but I think our girls still ran pretty well,” Hellesto said. “I’m just kinda disappointed that it ended up that way.”

Indeed, there was some disappointment in the Warriors camp with the second-place team trophy. Philomath had its sights set on a state title but La Grande just had too much fire power on the course for the Warriors to overcome.

PHS junior David Griffith reacts while approaching the plate on his home run trot in the second inning. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

7. Baseball finishes season strong to make semifinals

Philomath High’s baseball season got off to a rough start with four straight losses. Heading into an early league series finale against Cascade, the Warriors were 2-6. The team won that game, 17-4, and went on to win the Oregon West Conference title with several crucial victories, including back-to-back wins over Stayton and a series sweep of Newport.

In the playoffs, the Warriors continued to see success and reached the semifinals. Philomath opened the postseason with a 12-4 victory over Henley, an opponent that had caused problems for the Warriors over the years.

“Out of all of the teams we’ve played before at the 4A level, this is the one team that we’ve never beaten,” PHS coach Levi Webber said. “They’re just such a good program and they’re a tough team to beat. I’m extremely proud of the way our kids came out and competed from pitch one.”

Another huge win for the program followed in the quarterfinals when the Warriors eliminated No. 1 Banks, 2-1, in a thriller that came down to the fina out.

“The atmosphere was awesome and we had great support from the crowd — parents, fans, families,” Webber said. “It was just a really intense game the whole time and so it was a lot of fun. Obviously, it’s nice to come out on top but … it was just a great high school baseball state playoff game.”

Philomath lost to La Grande, 8-0, in the semifinals in a dominating no-hit performance by the opposing team’s pitcher. La Grande went on to win the state title by a 10-1 rout over Hidden Valley.

The Philomath High wrestling team earned the fourth-place trophy at state for the second straight season. From left, Chase Pindell, River Sandstrom, assistant coach James Kohn (back), Ben Hernandez, Blake Niemann, Blaise Pindell, assistant coach Joey Howell, Joseph Choi, David Griffith, assistant coach Jeremy French and head coach Troy Woosley. Not pictured: Caleb Blackburn. (Photo provided by Sal Hernandez)

8. Warriors wrestling team 4th at state tournament

Philomath had one of its best-ever state wrestling tournaments with fourth place at the 4A championships at Cascade. The Warriors had qualified eight wrestlers for the state meet and six came home with medals.

Blake Niemann and Blaise Pindell reached the championship matches in their respective weight classes and each had to settle for runner-up. Ben Hernandez and Joseph Choi placed third and David Griffith and Chase Ringwald placed fifth.

As a team, Philomath placed a solid fourth behind La Grande, Sweet Home and Tillamook — the same top four from the previous season.

“That’s about as good as we were going to get, you know, with La Grande, Tillamook and Sweet Home all having 18, 19 wrestlers,” PHS coach Troy Woosley said. “I like the fact that in the finals (medal rounds), we won most of the matches — except for firsts and seconds, but we took two thirds and two fifths. You’re not walking into them, you have to earn it.”

River Sandstrom and Caleb Blackburn were the teams other two state qualifiers.

The pandemic forced changes to the typical two-day state tournament format. Instead, the athletes faced the challenge of staying in top physical and mental shape in a single day.

Warriors junior Ty May made the all-state second team. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

9. Boys basketball team battles back for 4th at state

Following a painful 62-61 loss in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state tournament, Philomath High’s boys basketball team regrouped and finished strong with victories of 67-60 over Baker and 49-33 over Stayton. The performance earned PHS the fourth-place trophy.

“I tip my hat to those guys, they played hard,” PHS coach Blake Ecker said after the March 12 win over Stayton. “They could’ve folded it in when they were down 16 against Baker but we did a great job battling back and pulling off a solid win.”

Philomath’s record ended up at 20-6 for the season.

Said Ecker, “I’m proud of them — we ended up having a really good year.”

Juniors Ty May and Cole Beardsley were later named to the Oregon West Conference’s first team. May averaged 14.6 points per game and hit for double digits in all but three PHS games. Beardsley averaged 9.0 points per game — 12.9 in the stretch run over the team’s final eight games.

The all-state teams also included May on the second team and Beardsley as honorable mention.

Kathi Sollars takes the podium with her sister Christina Rosborough looking on during the induction of their father, Gary Cox, at Saturday night’s PHS Hall of Fame event. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

10. Philomath High Hall of Fame inducts inaugural class

With photographs of the late Gary Cox projected on the auditorium wall above and behind her, Kathi Sollars shared an emotion-filled speech that illustrated the importance that Philomath High athletics held in his 30-year run as a teacher, coach and athletic director.

The 300 people in Philomath High’s auditorium on May 14 quieted as her words and the images above came together. Completing the visual was the “Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior” T-shirt that Sollars wore to the event. Her sister, Christina Rosborough, was also on the stage and took the microphone to express her appreciation.

Cox is their dad and the two women were in town with their mother and other family members to celebrate his induction as part of the PHS Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

Before his passing in July 2021, Cox had been working with Steve Bennett to create a PHS Hall of Fame. “This happened because Gary wanted it to happen,” Bennett said. “He was passionate about it. He put a committee together and the wheels started turning.”

Along with Cox, others individuals inducted into the PHS Hall of Fame were Shirley (Lagestee) Huyett, Trisha (Stevens) Lamb, Terry Boss, Kevin Boss and Woody Bennett. Three teams were also inducted — the 1986 and 1987 girls basketball teams and the 1988 football team.

Several other notable accomplishments over the year finished just outside the top 10: Micah Matthews winning the 110 high hurdles at the state track meet; the girls soccer team reaching the quarterfinals and finishing 12-4; the volleyball team’s playoff season under a new head coach; the boys soccer team’s 16-9 playoff season; Carrson Hirte’s school-record swim in the 100 backstroke; dancer Ella Kelley’s inclusion on a 4A-1A all-state team; and the girls tennis team’s fifth-place finish at state.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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