State championships, great performances mark fantastic year for Ashland sports

Seven state championship teams, two individual state champs, two teams that qualified for national events and countless league and all-state awards. Yes, it was a pretty good year for athletes and sports fans alike in Ashland.

Not all the news happened on the field of play, either. Steve Farley decided one year was enough as Ashland High girls basketball coach. Southern Oregon athletic director Dennis Francois bolted for Drake. Jeremy Guthrie gave locals a reason to watch the Baltimore Orioles.

So, what were the top Ashland sports stories of 2008? The top teams? Who were the top athletes? Don't be silly. List like that are superficial, ultra subjective and exist for the sole purpose of meeting some arbitrary year-end newspaper quota designed to satisfy a juvenile urge to rate the unrateable — our memories, our feelings.

So "¦ bombs away! (in ascending order, of course).

No. 10 — The Heater is on (at Cal): One of the best athletes in Ashland High history, Brenna Heater has also been one of its most highly recruited. That process ended in November, when the 6-foot-3 senior post signed a national letter of intent to join one of the hottest women's basketball programs in the nation. Currently, Heater is watching the Grizzlies from the sideline after undergoing surgery on her ankle before the season, but she's hoping to rejoin the team in time for a playoff push.

No. 9 — Solid as a Stone: Everybody knew Lindsey Stone's transfer to Southern Oregon would impact the Cascade Conference, but "¦ wow. How good is the former Ashland High star? By the numbers, there's only a few you need to know: two seasons, two CCC Player of the Year awards. But, there's much more to Stone than that, says head coach Josh Rohlfing. "She's a great teammate, she's an incredible person to coach," he said. "It's how she exemplifies her family, her school, her team, hear coaches. Everything she does, she does it at the top level. She's just a top-shelf person."

No. 8 — Water polo reign: One day, two state championships — a great day for the Ashland High water polo program, and a great, great day for Christi Gilmore, the coach of both teams. "If we could win both of them," Gilmore said before heading off to state, "it would set a precedent and hopefully people would stand up and notice that in Ashland we need an aquatics program. We need a pool for a home for the Ashland swim team, for kids and youth and everything."

No. 7 — Gaviglio's best week ever: Actually, it was about a week and a half, but it probably felt like 10 minutes to Gaviglio. In that remarkable stretch in early June, Ashland's star pitcher led the Grizzlies to their first-ever state baseball championship, signed on to play for Oregon State (the two-time defending College World Series champions at the time), was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays and was named the OSAA Class 5A Pitcher of the Year. Whew.

No. 6 — AHS football team flips out (of playoffs): Guess who isn't a fan of the Southern Sky Conference's tie-break procedure? The Grizzlies appeared to be a shoe-in for a postseason berth when they edged fellow league power Crater early on, but Ashland lost to Klamath Union in the second-to-last game of the regular season and ended up in a three-way tie atop the conference standings. The coins took over from there, and when the smoke cleared the Comets and Pelicans were headed to the playoffs and the Grizzlies had to settle for being the state's only league champion that did not qualify for state. Whoopie.

No. 5 — Dash King's double dip: Ashland's freestyle phenom already had the best name in AHS swimming history before the state championships, but this performance gave it new meaning. King, who graduated in June, won the 50 free by just four one-hundredths of a second.

No. 4 — Matt Miner's long distance glory: Heading into the 2008 Class 5A state track and field meet, the Ashland High senior wasn't sure if he should try to run the 3,000 or the 800. In the end, he opted out of the 800 even though he would have been the top seed. It was a good call. Miner won a close 3,000 and an epic 1,500, holding off Marshfield's Jared Bassett in both.

No. 3 — Dennis Francois leaves SOU: Why is this a big deal? Because Francois, who took a job as the associate athletic director for external affairs at Drake University, was on the clock when the school began looking at the possibility of going NCAA Division II. That potential move away from the NAIA is still up in the air, but as Francois said, it will be at the top of the agenda for his replacement.

No. 2 — Ashland High grad Jeremy Guthrie gets Opening Day start for Baltimore Orioles: Guthrie, who graduated from AHS in 1997, said pressure wasn't a factor afterward, but the 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays ended up being one of his worst outings of the season.

"I felt good. I don't feel any different after this game," he said. "You put any start behind you. This was a bad one." The former three-sport prep star did put that start behind him and finished 10-12 with a 3.63 ERA.

And "¦

No. 1 — Ashland High baseball team captures program's first state title: The Grizzlies' comeback win over top-ranked Thurston clinched it, but the lasting image from Ashland's dramatic run through the 5A state playoffs may end up being Gaviglio's three-run bomb that stunned North Eugene in the quarterfinals. Trailing 4-2 and down to their last out, the Grizzlies needed a hit, a walk, something by Gaviglio to keep their dream season alive. Gaviglio delivered, vaporizing an 0-1 pitch over the 390-foot marker in center field to secure his place in Grizzly lore and advance Ashland to the state semifinals. Eight days later Gaviglio won a pitcher's duel with Thurston's Darrell Hunter, Luke Jannusch cranked his first home run of the season in the seventh and the Grizzlies were champions.

After Gaviglio's final pitch, a called strike, Max Gordon sprinted in from left field and performed a back flip before joining the dog pile on the mound. "It was the biggest payoff day ever," he said.

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at

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