The cold, wet months of winter provided not only time to spend up in the snow, but also a chance to watch countless hours of basketball and wrestling — two of South’s most underrated sports teams.
As one of South’s most consistent sports programs in recent memory, the men’s basketball team fought their way through an incredibly rough season start to yet another playoff game, while the wrestling team built upon its strong foundation and solidified itself as a legitimate threat in the Southwest Conference.
As the wrestling team continued to strengthen their roster and work toward improvement, the women’s basketball team underwent a complete reconstruction process under a new head coach, Heather Wolf. Wolf’s tremendous poise and discipline proved that the Lady Axemen have made huge strides in the right direction.
Wolf’s dedication has created a new mindset for our players to push themselves. Our program hopes to succeed in the future and keep a consistent record.
No matter which sport they were watching, fans were thoroughly entertained by the Axemen’s varying levels of experience across the board and their common belief that there is only one direction to go: up.
The men’s basketball team’s strong starting five, which consisted entirely of upperclassmen, was fairly reminiscent of South’s most recent run to the OSAA semifinals — a team that was led by 2015 graduate Eli Lininger and four other talented upperclassmen. But the similarities don’t end there. At one point in the season, both of these teams had a fairly surprising 2-5 record, which simply provided more motivation for the remaining games. Moreover, both teams featured one standout player amid a very strong surrounding cast. Two years ago, it was Eli Lininger, Mason Green-Richards, Sean O’Neil, and Kirk Bassett who filled those roles and led the way to one of the best seasons in South basketball history.
This season, Jay Elmore, Myles Green-Richards, Colin Chubbfertal, Everett Brandt, and Ryan Fredericks were all pivotal pieces in South’s complex offensive scheme. The only noticeable difference between these two great teams came in the playoffs. In 2015, the Axemen made a brilliant run that involved multiple upset victories and a buzzer-beater, eventually placing third in the state.
This year, the Axemen played a hard-fought battle on the road against David Douglas, and in a game that could have wound up either way, the Axemen fell 71 to 64 after leading by as many as nine points. Although most of the players were disappointed with this outcome, the team has a formidable roster of talented juniors that is ready to make a run in the next season.
“It’s going to be an exciting year next year. We’re all hoping we can live up to the hype, make the final eight, and play in the Chiles Center,” junior Will Graves said.
While the men’s team was unable to reach its full potential, the women’s basketball team proved that they were moving in the right direction and that their very own playoff run may not be as far-fetched as initially thought. The necessary statement was made in the opening home game against the Thurston Colts. The Lady Axemen put on a tremendous display of dominance, blocking shots left and right and finding no trouble scoring on the offensive end. The final score was 63 to 41, a commanding victory that the women’s basketball team hadn’t seen in years. Two more victories came in a sweep of the Roseburg Indians, a team that finished with a significantly better record than South. Finishing with five wins was the most in recent memory, and Coach Wolf and her players have high hopes for years to come.
“Coach Wolf’s dedication has created a new mindset for our players to push themselves. Our program hopes to succeed in the future and keep a consistent record,” junior Kaelin Stein said.
South’s wrestling program has struggled to progress as a team in the past due to low turnouts. Having as few as three or four players has held the team back immensely and has forced disqualification from certain tournaments.
This year, however, nine wrestlers showed up at the beginning of the season, many of them as freshmen or sophomores, proving that this program is alive and well. Seeing nine athletes show interest in joining wrestling is something South hadn’t accomplished in years. Hope is most definitely of the essence, and this new turnout of confident underclassmen provides plenty of it.
Future years may see wrestlers going to, or even placing, at the state tournament — a prospect that seemed far on the horizon when the likes of talented wrestler Aidan Braun graduated in 2016. Currently, Axemen wrestling has a roster that will return almost all of their players next year, a fact that all but proves that success will be found in the very near future. As these players continue to work hard and improve as wrestlers, the sheer number of athletes will allow the team to fight back against the adversity of previous years.
The South Eugene athletics program as a whole has proven itself as one of the most well-rounded in the state this year. The fall season witnessed multiple teams making trips to the state playoffs, while the winter showed that even the still-developing programs at South are making strides in the right direction. Almost every sport at South has a level of potential that opens the door to dominance across the board, a luxury that many South students will likely enjoy in the near future.
Due to this massive potential, South Eugene has the rest of the Southwest Conference shuddering in fear. The current future has proven to be a bright one, and the Axemen are showing no signs of slowing down. While its smaller programs prove themselves as genuine competitors, South’s already-established teams are poised to continue their train of success and bring home as many honors as possible.