The COVID season: Kennedy football produces most compelling story

April 2021 Posted in Sports

James DayBy James Day

The season of fall sports in the spring is over, and for the most part things turned out all right. Most of the games were played. Soccer and volleyball squads played legitimate league seasons. Small school cross country teams put on a state championship meet.

Good for them. The thing about a crisis like COVID is that it tests people and their resilience. I’d like to think we learned a thing or two along the way. 

I saw five football games and one soccer match. In all six occasions the temperature was at 45 degrees or below when the event concluded. So much for spring. Almost no spectators. But still lots of excitement. 

Kennedy taped the numbers of the football players to their personal water bottles. You wouldn’t have seen that in a non-COVID season. Silverton set up three entry gates for its football players, one for freshmen, one for junior varsity and one for varsity. 

When Kennedy opened March 5 at Santiam Christian the fear factor might have been at its height. The Trojans forsook the cramped visiting locker room and dressed in the cafeteria for social distancing. Virtually everyone wore masks, although in those six weeks of events I saw more noses than I would have liked. 

When the outbreaks came, even though they were minor, the football schedule was torpedoed. Silverton has an outbreak. The West Albany game is canceled. The Central-Corvallis game hit by an outbreak. Dallas, which was supposed to play Central, picks up Thurston. Crescent Valley, which was supposed to play Corvallis in the city rivalry game, sends out its smallish roster against the West Linn JVs. Silverton wants an extra day of practice so it picks up a Saturday game against Class 6A Sherwood (and falls 36-13 to finish 3-2). Lebanon, which was supposed to play Silverton, schedules Estacada. They juggled, they played.

Silverton played five games, only two of them against Class 5A teams, Central and South Albany. They played two 6A teams, Sherwood and West Salem (combined record 11-1) and a 4A squad, Marist Catholic, which wound up losing to Mazama in the 4A title game. Kudos to 4A, led by Marshfield AD Greg Mulkey, for putting together championships.

But my highlight for “fall” was an easy choice, the Kennedy football team. Talk about resilience. They got boat raced 45-8 in their opener at Class 3A Santiam Christian and lost their senior quarterback, Dylan Kleinschmit, to a shoulder injury. But they found a QB, Riley Cantu, and they just kept battling. They beat Regis. They beat Salem Academy in overtime. They came back from a 20-6 deficit to whip Class 3A Dayton, 41-20. They blanked Sheridan 42-0.

Kennedy took hold of the game in a 34-0 second-quarter explosion and cruised 47-14. Kleinschmit was on hand, left arm in a sling, but his right hand in constant use, patting his teammates on the back. Kennedy finished No. 2 in the state behind undefeated Heppner. Salem Academy was third, Regis was sixth and Monroe was seventh. All three suffered their lone losses to Kennedy.

Hats off to coach Joe Panuke and the boys at Kennedy.

Cross Country: Kennedy claimed a district title in the girls competition April 1 at Cheadle Lake Park in Lebanon. The Trojans tied Central Linn with 75 points, but Kennedy’s Haley Kline placed higher than the No. 6 runner for Central Linn, giving the Trojans the tiebreaker.

Cassie Traeger was the top finisher for Kennedy, taking 10th place to earn a spot on the all-district team. Other scorers were Nora Brenden, 13th, Briar Hachenberg, 19th, Kylee Rodriguez, 26th, and Alyse Williams, 35th. At the April 10 state meet, also at Cheadle Lake, Kennedy took 11th in the 3A-2A-1A competition, with Traeger taking 38th in 22:48.16.

Silverton, meanwhile, finished second in the Mid-Willamette end of the season showdown girls competition and third in the boys April 10 at Cheadle Lake. Silverton’s Abigail Espinavarro was seventh for the girls in 21:16.27. Trevor Ortega (11th, 18:07.38) and Carter Gauvin (13th, 18:17.10), paced the boys.    

Volleyball: Kennedy finished a perfect 16-0 and won the Tri-River Conference playoffs with a 3-1 win vs. Salem Academy. The Trojans are 102-10 in the past four seasons, including a state Class 2A title in 2019, a third-place finish in 2017 and a fifth in 2018. Kennedy held a 48-3 edge in sets against foes this season.

Silverton, meanwhile, closed strong, winning five of its final six to finish 4-2 in the Mid-Willamette and 8-5 overall. 

Soccer: The Silverton boys finished 5-3 in Mid-Willamette play, good for fourth in the league. The Foxes then went 0-2 in crossover matches with Salem Class 6A schools, falling to McNary and West Salem to conclude 5-5.

The Foxes’ girls squad, was unbeaten in league play until the final week of the season when they fell to top powers Corvallis and Crescent Valley. Silverton split its two crossover games, losing to South Salem 1-0 and outscoring McKay 4-3. The Foxes finished 4-3-3 with a +11 goal differential.

Spring is here: Kind of. Practices for the OSAA’s Season 3 (baseball, softball, tennis, golf and track and field) began April 5. By the time you read this teams already will have played their first games. 

Follow me on Twitter.com @jameshday. 

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