Spartans, Falcons to join nine-team conference in 2014-15

by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - Wilsonville High School will face La Salle Prep and Hillsboro in Northwest Oregon Conference action starting in 2014-15. Above, members of the WHS girls soccer team huddle at Randall Stadium.One rivalry is going away, but two others are on their way back.

Although the Northwest Oregon Conference reconfiguration that takes effect next year will bring an end to Wilsonville High School’s league meetings with Sherwood, it will likely reignite the relationships the Wildcats once had with the athletic programs at La Salle Prep and Hillsboro.

When Wilsonville was a Class 3A school in the former four-class system, La Salle was a rival in the old Tri-Valley League. And when the Wildcats moved to 5A in the six-class system, which the OSAA established in 2006-07, they competed against Hillsboro in the original edition of the NWOC.

“La Salle and Hillsboro are both old friends,” longtime WHS boys basketball coach Chris Roche said. “We have histories with both of those schools. I think our league will welcome both with open arms.”

The changes to the NWOC and other conferences throughout the state follow extensive review and analysis by the OSAA classification and districting committee, which drafted proposals based on input from member schools for the four-year block beginning in 2014-15.


La Salle Prep is moving from 4A to the NWOC in 5A because the OSAA committee lowered the cutoff attendance figure between the two classes to 675.

The private Catholic school in Milwaukie, which had 683 students in 2012-13 and an adjusted enrollment of 676, will have the smallest student body in the NWOC and one of the smallest in all of 5A.

“We look forward to this challenge and are especially excited about being a part of the Northwest Oregon Conference with eight other Portland metro area schools,” La Salle Prep president Denise Jones said in a news release.

The transition seems appropriate for the current Tri-Valley Conference member, which has won more than 30 state championships in school history.

The Falcons have been particularly successful at the state level over the last five years, winning OSAA team titles in boys soccer (2009), football (2011), boys tennis (2011), girls cross-country (2012), boys golf (2013) and boys cross-country (2013). The school has also earned runner-up state finishes in boys golf (2009 and 2010), girls basketball (2011) and boys soccer (2012) in recent seasons.

La Salle Prep appears to be leaving 4A on a high note — at least on the hardwood. As of March 4, its boys basketball team held the No. 2 ranking in the state with a 19-3 overall record and its girls basketball team stood at No. 2 with just one loss in its first 23 games.

And the Falcons figure to be competitive at 5A in other sports, too.

Wilsonville’s longtime swimming coach, Deb Mandeville, said she expects her team’s old rivalry with La Salle Prep to pick up again.

Starting in 1998, either the Wildcats or the Falcons won the girls 400-yard freestyle relay title five years in a row at the OSAA championships.

“Our district will get more competitive, at least in swimming,” Mandeville said.

David Barkley, who coaches the track and field and cross-country teams at Wilsonville, anticipates an influx of strong distance running as the private school joins the NWOC.

“That will really add to the pressure in those events,” he said.

The Falcons will likely make an impact in boys soccer as well. With just three seniors this past season, they won a conference title, finished with the No. 4 ranking in the state, compiled an 11-4-1 record and gave up just nine goals combined.

It could mean the rejuvenation of an old Tri-Valley League rivalry for the Wildcats, who captured the NWOC championship this past year.

“Wilsonville and La Salle would always seem to battle for first and second place in the league,” WHS boys soccer coach Ian Reschke said.

The relationship between Wilsonville and La Salle Prep didn’t completely die off when the six-class system was introduced. The schools currently meet in league play in boys lacrosse, which is not regulated by the OSAA.


Hillsboro is headed back to 5A after a short stint at the 6A level.

The Spartans moved up to the largest classification in 2010 and reached the state quarterfinals in football that year, but they went 0-10 on the gridiron in each of the next two seasons and compiled a 2-8 record this past season.

HilHi, whose adjustment enrollment is 1,185, has a rich athletic history and a list of former stars that includes Olympic athletes Thomas Garrigus, Josh Inman and Tiffeny Milbrett as well as baseball players Wes Schulmerich, Scott Brow and Bob Beall.

Over the last eight years, the school has won OSAA championships in boys soccer (2006) and football (2009) and has also earned runner-up state finishes in wrestling (2008) and boys swimming (2009 and 2010).

Barkley expects stout competition from Hillsboro in track and field and cross-country.

“Adding Hillsboro back to the NWOC will be good as they are an organized program with a good facility,” he said. “My concern is primarily that the schools we compete with, especially for track, can host a good meet. Hillsboro is a good track school that has also been very good in the field events.”

The Spartans have also shown strength in boys soccer. They earned a 5-1 win over Wilsonville — an eventual 5A semifinalist — in a nonconference match this past season.

They “were always tough” as a league opponent, Reschke said.

 In girls soccer, Wilsonville has won five of its six games against Hillsboro since losing both 2006 meetings.

In football, the series featured a 23-21 win for the Wildcats in 2006 and a 20-17 double-overtime win for the Spartans in 2008.


One critique of the recently approved adjustments to the NWOC, at least among some Wilsonville coaches, is that it will feature nine teams instead of eight.

In basketball, Roche said, it’s a change that might lead to regular-season byes as well as reduced options in nonconference competition.

“From my perspective, eight-team leagues are clearly better than nine-team leagues in sports like boys basketball,” he said. “But, again, we are adding strong schools in La Salle and Hillsboro, and we respect the OSAA’s work. We are in a great spot. The NWOC with eight teams would simply be a slightly better situation. Overall, we are in a great league and positioned appropriately for the next five years.”

WHS coaches also said a nine-school league could make it harder for teams and athletes to qualify for state-level competition in some sports. Barkely said the issue could be solved with a regional event or an increase in the number of state qualifiers from the new NWOC.

Roche said he believes the OSAA should be commended for its dedication to addressing the concerns of its members, especially considering the myriad factors involved in the classification process.

“Having been on the Rankings Committee, I know how hard everyone works to find the best solutions possible,” he said. “When you are talking about a group like this committee working on classification and districting trying to serve the number of schools they are trying to serve, with disparate circumstances, priorities and goals, it is an extremely difficult challenge.

“But the OSAA does a noble job of working diligently to find the best possible answers to very tough questions. I give them credit for all they do, for their openness to feedback and for their membership-based, committee policy-making structure.

“The OSAA is an amazing organization, and I applaud their efforts on the classification and districting front. The OSAA moves boldly in the directions it believes will serve its member schools the best, and I do not think they get enough credit for the great work they do.”

Barkley, though, doesn’t think the work should be done every four years. No structure for athletic competition will satisfy every school and program in the OSAA, he said.

“There really is not a way to make everybody happy with classification,” Barkley said. “Nobody wants to be put in a league or classification where they feel they are at a disadvantage. High school sports are not really about winning and losing; however, winning is more fun than losing.  I would hope that the OSAA stops reinventing the whole system every four years and just makes minor corrections as needed.”

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