Philomath teams, athletes, coaches and sports fans experienced plenty of highs in 2017.
Several of the high school's Warrior teams performed well and made the state playoffs, a list that included boys basketball in March, baseball in May, and volleyball, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls cross-country in late October and early November.
There were also several others appearing at state as individuals in wrestling, swimming, track and field, and boys cross-country.
But it's another sport that the Philomath Express pegged as the No. 1 sports story of 2017 and that's the return of varsity football. The team didn't make the postseason and finished with a sub-.500 record but that was secondary to the emotion that was felt and the pride that was experienced a year after the sport had been suspended.
Editor Brad Fuqua selected the top 10 sports stories of the year using various factors, including the scale of accomplishments, community interest and newsworthiness, along with perceived interest through public events, comments, emails and interaction through social media channels.
1. Football returns to PHS
Philomath High School returned to the football field Sept. 1 with a 19-12 victory at Junction City. Besides providing a tally mark in the win column, the Warriors had accomplished much more to bring back a program that had been suspended for the 2016 season because of a hazing investigation.
The victory on the field didn't come easy with a dramatic second-half finish highlighted by a 94-yard touchdown run by Dakota Kantor.
"I think it's very fitting that we were behind and came back and won," senior Joey Howell said. "I don't feel like I have to explain that but I think that's very fitting for us to just come back and show some heart."
The game also marked the first for new head coach Rob Shader. And as all left the field that night, there were plenty of smiles to go around.
"Huge, huge for the community, huge for our fans, huge for us, huge for everyone in the program," said Warriors QB Kenan Conner, who was named a co-player of the year in the conference and also received state team recognition. "It's just huge for the city of Philomath."
Philomath ended the season with a 29-20 win over Yamhill-Carlton for an overall record of 2-6. Along with Conner, others receiving all-league first-team recognition for the season were Kane Rust, Tony Rath and Brooks Stearns.
2. Girls soccer reaches semis
The Philomath High girls soccer team started an impressive postseason that reached the Class 4A semifinals. The Warriors entered the state playoffs as a No. 11 seed and pulled off victories over No. 6 Gladstone, 2-1, and No. 3 Scappoose, 1-0. Valley Catholic ended the dream with a 4-0 win in the semis but it had been a memorable run.
Senior Carrie Lillis earned co-player of the year honors in the Oregon West Conference and also received recognition on the all-state team. Junior Quincey Pittman also made the all-league first team.
The Warriors had to play their way into state with a 6-0 victory over Astoria Oct. 28 in a play-in game. Philomath finished with an overall record of 10-6-2.
3. Baseball team in final 4
Philomath High's baseball team advances to Class 4A semifinals after defeating Valley Catholic, 16-11, in the first round and Sisters, 6-5, in eight innings in the quarterfinals. In the latter contest, Sisters pitchers walked a batter with two outs and then hit three straight PHS players to force in a run. Austin Gerding, the Oregon West position player of the year, was in at pitcher in the bottom of the eighth and closed out the win.
The Warriors, which entered the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, lost to Henley in the semifinals and finished the season with a 20-7 record. Philomath won the Oregon West Conference title with a 13-2 mark.
Along with Gerding, others earning OWC first-team honors were Logan Williams, Nolan Jackson, Casey Croy and Riley Davis. Levi Webber was named coach of the year.
Gerding, Williams and Croy planned to continue their baseball careers at the college level.
4. Boys win hoops title
Philomath High's boys basketball team won its fourth straight Oregon West Conference title and entered the state playoffs as the No. 4 seed and the defending champions.
The Warriors opened with a first-round victory over Mazama but at the state tournament in Forest Grove, they lost to North Bend and Gladstone. Philomath ended the season with a 20-6 record.
Cal Stueve and Austin Gerding were named to the Oregon West Conference's first team. Stueve would go on to sign with Oregon Tech to play college basketball.
5. Volleyball perfect in OWC
The Philomath High volleyball team rolled to a perfect record in the Oregon West Conference to take the league title and a berth as the No. 4 seed in the Class 4A state playoffs.
All-stater and conference co-player of the year Kaela Lindsey, who would later announce plans to play volleyball at Eastern Oregon, had a standout season along with several others, including Lindsey Luke, another who received all-state recognition. Along with those two, Joelle Berger made the all-conference first team.
The season ended on a sour note with a loss at home to Scappoose in the first round of the playoffs. The overall record ended up at 20-4. The Warriors entered the season with a new coach in Denee Newton, who had replaced Joyce Stringer. Newton earned the conference's coach of the year award.
6. New heights in softball
The Philomath High School's softball team was one win short of qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time since 2001 with a 7-0 loss at Elmira in a play-in game. But even being in the position to advance to a play-in game was a significant step forward for the program, which has struggled over the years. The Warriors finished with a 15-9 overall record.
Hannah Williams, Carrie Lillis and Sarah Buddingh all earned first-team honors in the Oregon West Conference.
7. Sexton at top of disc golf
Philomath native Nate Sexton reached the top in his sport by winning the U.S. Disc Golf Championship Oct. 4-7 in South Carolina. Sexton finished in first five strokes ahead of the runner-up with rounds of 59, 58, 57 and 58 for a total of 232. Sexton earned his high school diploma at Philomath in 2003.
8. Boys cross-country streak
Philomath High's boys cross-country team saw its incredible streak of qualifying for state come to an end at 33 years with a third-place finish at the district championships Oct. 28 at Cascade.
"This is a sad day for the boys," PHS coach Joe Fulton said. "It'll be the first time since 1983 that I haven't gone to state with a bunch of boys."
Philomath and Newport tied for second and the tiebreaker came down to each squad's No. 6 runners. Newport had the edge by about 16 seconds ahead of Philomath's entry.
9. Boss named OSU coach
Philomath native Terry Boss was named head coach of the Oregon State men's soccer team Dec. 28. Boss, a 2000 PHS graduate and former OSU assistant, returns to Oregon after serving the last four seasons at Virginia. The Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA tournament each year and won the title in 2014.
"It's a dream come true to return home and lead the Oregon State Beavers' men's soccer team," Boss said. "This is the community I love and a program that has always been near and dear to my heart."
Boss had a sports past that includes impressive feats at both the college and pro levels. And based on what Virginia has done the past few years bringing in talent, Boss appears to have a knack for recruiting.
10. Bennett playing for OSU
Philomath High graduate Haylie Bennett saw significant playing time as a redshirt freshman for an Oregon State volleyball team that reached the NCAA playoffs.
Bennett started all 33 matches at opposite hitter and played in all 121 of the team’s sets. She finished third on the team in kills (254) and fourth in kills per set (2.10) and was third in total blocks (96).
During the season, Bennett was named to the all-tournament teams at the Beaver State Classic and North Harbour Marriott Invitational.
The Beavers played in the NCAA Tournament's first round in Austin, Texas, against North Carolina State. In what turned out to be an epic battle, the Wolfpack pulled out the win, 25-18, 19-25, 25-21, 21-25, 15-13. Bennett had seven blocks in the match.
Other noteworthy stories in 2017 (listed in chronological order):
· Sophomore James Dye placed third in the 100-yard butterfly and fourth in the 200 freestyle at the state swim meet in February. Senior Taran Pindell and three relays had also qualified. During the regular season, the girls won the Clemens Invitational by 12.5 points over runner-up Newport.
· Juniors Joey Howell and Tony Rath both overcame losses to qualify for state Feb. 11 at the Class 4A District 2 wrestling tournament. Howell won one match at state and finished 33-10. Rath's season ended with a 30-16 record.
· PHS senior Casey Croy threw a five-inning, no-hitter in a 12-0 victory April 7 over Stayton. Croy's 75-pitch performance included 10 strikeouts. A Warriors pitcher had not throw a no-hitter in years and it was the first under coach Levi Webber, who has been leading the program since the 2010 season.
· Philomath freshman Emma Pankalla was named to the Oregon West Conference's first team in girls basketball.
· Senior Nate Haslam won a district title and qualified for the state tournament in boys tennis as a singles player. Haslam had a top eight showing at state. It's believed that Haslam is the first PHS tennis player to qualify for state in both singles and doubles in different seasons.
· Philomath High's girls won the Oregon West Conference meet and qualified in 15 events for the Class 4A state track and field championships in May. Freshman Maggie Ross had a very strong showing with three wins in individual events and as part of a winning relay.
· PHS senior Molly Klipfel pulled off a stunner in the eyes of some at the state track meet at Hayward Field in Eugene with a second-place medal in the triple jump. Klipfel had been seeded only fifth in the district meet.
· Philomath High's equestrian team qualified most of its team for the state competition at Redmond. Later in June at the Pacific Northwest Invitational Championships, Rio Jensen and her horse "Oso" took first place in dressage after heading to the meet at the last minute as a second alternate.
· Philomath teen Joel Carrera, who has developmental challenges, played in a D1 baseball game July 4 at Crescent Valley, going 1 for 1 with two walks.
· The Philomath High girls cross-country team easily won the Oregon West Conference Championships at Cascade Oct. 28 with sophomore Hannah Hernandez taking the individual title for the second straight year. At state, the girls finished seventh as a team and the top individual finisher came from boys' qualifier Jensen Davis, who was 20th.
· The Philomath High School boys soccer team had a strong finish, won its play-in game on the road, 3-1, over North Bend and reached the Class 4A playoffs. Entering state as a No. 16 seed, the Warriors lost to No. 1 Seaside, 4-1. Antoine Feld and Sam Callender made the all-conference first team. The Warriors finished with a 6-7-3 overall record.
· Even Evensen, just turning age 70, competed in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Evensen suffered serious injuries in a 2002 Ironman competition in Florida when he was hit by a vehicle but he worked his way back to reach new heights in the sport.
· The OSAA finalized realignment decisions for 2018-22 with Philomath remaining in the 4A Oregon West Conference with Newport and Stayton and to be joined by Sisters, Sweet Home and Woodburn.
· Philomath High's wrestling team pulled off one of the most memorable comebacks in recent history with a 48-34 dual win over Crescent Valley. The Warriors trailed 36-24 before finishing with six straight wins by Dylan Donnell, Joey Howell, Issiah Blackburn, Brooks Stearns, Jared Minter and Kane Rust.