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Southern Oregon University junior running back Rey Vega races past the reach of Carroll College defender Craig Kein at Raider Stadium last season. [PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR]

Penza: August's arrival means the fall sports season is nearly upon us

I sit here on the first day of August with the same thought process as a lot of people in Ashland in the Rogue Valley.

Yes, I want to the smoke to go away so we can enjoy the outdoors again.

OK, so that’s not my only thought about what it’s currently like as the calendar now flips from July to August. It’s the realization that as summer baseball seasons wind down locally — or, in the Ashland Pilots’ case, already has seen the dust settle — that the start of fall sports at Southern Oregon University and Ashland High School is right around the corner.

Or, in the case of some sports at SOU like volleyball, have already begun.

There’s plenty of reasons as to why the fall sports season in Ashland could really be a special one.

No matter how SOU’s volleyball team ends up doing this season, the fact that they are going to be the ones who play the first competitive game in the Lithia Motors Pavilion in a couple of weeks isn’t something that escapes them.

You could see it on their faces that they’re proud to be the ones to do that, knowing full well that they have a home on campus that they can now call their own after two years of playing their home games at Ashland High.

(By the way, as somebody who has already gotten a tour, SOU’s new gym is so nice, you guys, and you will like it a lot.)

And if Lithia Motors Pavilion opening up is point No 1, then the Raiders’ football season must be 1A, right?

The first season under head coach Charlie Hall was simply fantastic for a program that has achieved so much and won so many games in recent seasons.

The Raiders are likely looking at a very high preseason ranking come next week’s announcement fro the NAIA offices, which might not be a surprise to some based on the fact that they‘re coming off a 12-1 season and were one of the final four teams remaining in the national playoffs.

There’s still a preseason quarterback competition to be had and six starters to replace, obviously, but there’s still so much talent on the roster that being the pick to win the Frontier Conference seemed pretty easy to figure out.

Now they just have to go out and live up to it to a lofty preseason billing. (Which is surely just one of the goals that Hall and the Raiders have set for this fall.)

It’s not just football and a new gym opening up that has me looking forward to the fall sports season, though.

There’s the debut of SOU men’s soccer coach Davie Carmichael and the Raiders’ defense of their Cascade Conference title.

There’s an Ashland High football season that will see the Grizzlies hoping they can see their plethora of youngsters take a step forward in 2018.

There’s a high school cross country season where a whole lot of eyes — including those of yours truly — will be on what EJ Holland does to build off what was an incredible spring, capped off by his two first-place finishes at the state meet in Eugene.

I could go on and on and on...

The beautiful thing about the fall sports season is that every day at the office is something different. You go from college soccer one day, to high school volleyball the next, to a weekend that’s full of football in one way or another.

From the middle of August until the final days of November there is going to be plenty to watch, plenty to pay attention to and plenty of possibilities for an exciting fall season at both the college and high school level.

Oh, and then it’s jumping head-first right into basketball.

But, for now, we’ll keep things focused on the immediate future, one that involves plenty of happenings in Ashland beginning in a few short weeks.

Let’s just hope the smoke clears so that we can actually spend some part of our August outside rather than continuously monitoring just how bad the air quality is.

That sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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