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What a month for the Ducks

Sat, 11/23/2013 - 4:45pm
Cliff Pfenning
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Mark Helfrich got a lot of face time during Saturday's game at Arizona, so the nation knows who he is now. And, he's already headed for a hot seat after his program got absolutely trounced by the host Wildcats.

Not only did the Ducks get stomped by an inspired group of players, they openly got trounced by the media for some comments made by players that they weren't all that excited about heading back to the Rose Bowl because they had been there before.

So, they got their wish.

For the second year-in-a-row, Stanford, not Oregon, will play for the Pac-12 Title and Oregon is headed for a non-BCS bowl game. Fans will get to travel to somewhere other than Pasadena or Phoenix this year.

Oregon still needs to beat Oregon State to avoid playing somewhere like New Mexico.

The game against Oregon State, and Arizona, looked like blowouts earlier in the month, but then the Ducks hit some major snags - mostly inside the opponents 10-yard-line, but also on the sideline.

Oregon has looked terrible on the sideline, and that's Helfrich's domain. When players look lost and uninspired, the first place media and fans look is the head coach. Helfrich hasn't performed so well in that category. He's no Chip Kelly.

There's still a lot to be learned about Helfrich, who hadn't been the top guy in any program before taking over earlier in the year when Kelly left for the NFL.

Against Stanford, players openly seemed distraught on the sideline as the Cardinal built a 26-0 lead in the fourth quarter.

Then, the team bounced back and got within a touchdown of producing a magical victory. After a bland victory last week over Utah, the team seemed to just fall apart at Arizona, unable to stop the Wildcats' running game and unable to finish drives.

It's crazy to think a 9-2 record is underachieving, but it is, especially when the season started with tours of the new football team practice facility, and then a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated heading into the game at Stanford.

The slide can't be centered on the defense, as it's truly done its part to produce wins. The offense just hasn't done its part, through turnovers and stalled drives. The play-calling on offense has become a disaster and Marcus Mariota has turned into someone getting outplayed by former junior college walk-ons.

Wow, what a month November has been for the Ducks. And, Helfrich, who is now the head of a powerhouse program that's back amongst the ranks of "beatable" for just about anyone they play.

We're going to learn a lot more about Mark Helfrich in the coming weeks, especially this week when he gets compared to Mike Riley at Oregon State.

Western Conference Power Rankings

Mon, 11/18/2013 - 6:52pm
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We're looking at following the Western Conference this year in the NBA. Keep an ear out on our Podcasts as we'll regularly bring the subject up throughout the year. Remember this isn't my predictions for the season, although that goes into it (sorry Phoenix), but this is a point in time on how well each team is playing. More weight to the more recent games and scoring differential.

  1. San Antonio
  2. Los Angeles Clippers
  3. Portland
  4. Golden State
  5. Oklahoma City
  6. Houston
  7. Minnesota
  8. Dallas
  9. Memphis
  10. Phoenix
  11. New Orleans
  12. Los Angeles Lakers
  13. Denver
  14. Sacramento
  15. Utah

 

What a great day for Oregon

Fri, 11/08/2013 - 10:39am
Wanna Be Like Mike

This past weekend I had the chance to cover the Oregon School Activities Association Cross Country Championships, held at Lane Community College in Eugene.

It wasn't the first time I had attended the event; I was fortunate enough to run in the Class 4A race in both 2010 and '11, and it is definitely an experience I will never forget.

After seeing the meet through the eyes of a reporter, as opposed to those of an athlete, I realize just how amazing of an event it truly is.

While I was participating, I was focused on running at a peak level and helping my team. I was certainly never an elite runner and my team was never in contention for a state title, but I still always felt that the state championship meet had an importance about it that no other race had.

Saturday, when I was able to step back and watch all eight races with no rooting interest, I realized why.

The meet is one of the last examples we are given of experiencing running in its purest form.

Oregon is traditionally one of the top states in the nation for prep runners and Saturdays meet proved to be no exception.

Matthew Maton and Hannah Gindlesperger, both of Summit, were able to take shots at the course records during the 5A races, while the 6A women race featured two former state champions, and witnessed a new champion crowned when Elia Donaghu won in a time of 18:01.

Kyle Thompson of Central Catholic won his second 6A individual title in what was certainly the most exciting race of the day.Thompson battled Reilly Bloomer of South Eugene down to the 200 meter mark where he was finally able to pull away, winning in a time of 15:22.

These were some of the top high school runners in the nation competing in track and field's most historic city on a championship stage.

No sponsors.

No prize money.

Just a determination to win.

After crossing the finish line in the 6A girls race, South Eugene junior Sara Tsai triumphantly threw her arms in the air and anyone watching could not be blamed for thinking she had just won her second consecutive individual title.

She hadn't.

Tsai finished second 21 seconds behind Donaghu, but a second place finish for Tsai this season may just have felt as special as her state title last season.

After missing all of the 2013 track season with mononucleosis, Tsai spent the majority of this cross country season recovering from a stress fracture and didn't run in her first race until the George Fox Invitational on
Oct. 12. That she was even able to compete in the race, let alone perform so well in such a competitive field, is truly amazing.

Immediately after the race, Tsai was embraced and congratulated by Donaghu, as well as other top finishers.

“What she did is incredible. To get second with a stress fracture, I don’t know who else could do that,” Donaghu said. “She’s such an amazing competitor and I just wanna wish her the best.”

Tsai’s story is another chapter added to the illustrious history of distance running in Eugene

The way she was praised by her rivals and received by her hometown crowd is a first-class example of what makes the Cross Country Championship such a great event.

There will be plenty of compelling stories at next year's meet; Maton, the nation’s top prep runner, will return for his senior season with hopes of breaking Galen Rupp’s course record.

Central Catholic returns virtually its entire squad, with the exception of Thompson, and will be aiming for a third consecutive team championship. Summit's girls will be aiming for a seventh-straight title.

And of course, Donaghu will have to beat Tsai once again if she hopes to defend her title, which has been won by a sophomore three straight years.

The 2014 OSAA Cross Country Championship has potential to be one of the most compelling prep championships in recent memory.

Let’s hope that it's filled with the same drama, emotion and class demonstrated by the 2013 meet.

Building the franchise

Thu, 11/07/2013 - 11:24pm
Cliff Pfenning
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Well, losing to Stanford in November is a lot better than losing to Alabama in January.

At least for this season.

That's the basic assessment of Thursday's loss by the University of Oregon football team at Stanford.

The score? Not important. It's only the result that really matters.

The officials? Not the deciding factor, but they definitely had a role in the outcome.

The SI Jinx? Maybe, but you can't win the nation's top college trophy without being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, so ... it's a good watercooler topic, if there are any watercoolers actually left.

UO football fans learned a lot about their franchise - it's way beyond being a college program these days - from the loss Thursday, and they're things that can be very helpful in the gameplan for winning the national championship. And, winning the national championship many years in a row, too. So, in some ways, Thursday's loss was helpful to the franchise, long-term.

There's a lot to assess.

First, is do we have the right coach?

Thursday's loss came in the same week that ESPN aired a program that followed Alabama's Nick Saban for six months as he guided players and coaches toward ultimate victory - the national championship. The Crimson Tide has won it the past two seasons, and three of the past four.

Is Mark Helfrich ready for that media attention? He needs to be, and with a lot of passion - for the media world. Thursday's loss didn't highlight what Helfrich did wrong, but that he doesn't seem to be on the same level as Saban, or Stanford coach Brian Shaw. They both took over successful programs and have kept them their, but they work in very different worlds of expectation. Helfrich is expected to win the national title every year. Shaw coaches with the goal of playing in the Rose Bowl, or even the national championship game.

Thursday showed off Helfrich's team does not yet have the urgency to overcome the type of game it might get with the national championship on the line. But, he seems to be a great hire.

Second, what happened to Marcus Mariota?

He never runs the ball forward. In watching the NFL, a group of young, successful quarterbacks have infused the league with their ability to run and pass with great efficiency, and that's how Mariota has been delivered to the media world - he's equally gifted at running and passing in an offense.

But, it's not true. Mariota actually seems afraid (or has been coached) into not running forward to save a broken play. The issue showed itself off numerous times Thursday - that Mariota seems more adept at looking for a receiver behind the line of scrimmage than running for a first down by using the open spaces created by his receivers.

It was a very frustrating loss to watch. Stanford seemed like the perfect game to show off the parts of the Oregon offense that had been held in reserve, the plays that would accentuate the basic run up the middle. Why show off all the plays in the UO playbook when the wins are all by 21 points or more? Save some for Stanford. Maybe Alabama. That was a theory coming out of games against Washington and UCLA.

But, they didn't seem to be saving any plays at all. Maybe they just don't have that many plays, starting with the read-option, where Mariota reads a defender and instinctively decides to hand the ball to a back or keep it himself and run. He never runs, so the play ends up as a basic run up the middle. What's exciting about that? And, that's one of the reasons Mariota is on the Heisman Watch.

Thursday's loss highlighted that Mariota should not be on the Heisman Watch. However you want to assess Johnny Manziel, it's not hard to think he would have guided Oregon to a big win Thursday just by running the ball forward when he needed.

Next, is Oregon's defense good enough to stop Alabama? Even though Stanford converted time and again on third down, Oregon's defense does seem good enough to slow down and eventually stop other teams - even ones that don't throw very often. Thursday's game had really just one bad play by the Oregon defense - a third-down conversion run by Kevin Hogan where three Ducks had a chance to stop him and none did before he ran out of bounds having gotten a first down.

Finally, how can the Pac-12 Conference fix its officials?

What a different outcome Thursday might have been if the second-quarter interception hadn't been overturned due to a pass interference penalty that could only be described as one of the worst calls of the year. But, the Pac-12 has issues from the Wisconsin at Arizona State game. And, the call ruled a fumble on the Ducks next drive? It could easily have been ruled not a fumble.

But, that's the kind of game Helfrich needs to be ready to guide his team to a win. They almost got there with their late rally, but even then the offense was still running the ball when it needed more than one score with less than four minutes left.

A very frustrating loss, but also one that might have been good for the long-term success of the franchise.

 

 

 

 

For real team excitement - it's cross country

Fri, 11/01/2013 - 10:19am
Cliff Pfenning
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It's right there in vivid color from a year ago, the final feet of the OSAA Cross Country state finals.

With St. Mary's and Grant expecting a tight race for the girls Class 6A team title, junior Paige Rice of St. Mary's bore down on Grant freshman Ella Donaghu on the track and Lane Community College - the clock keeping track of time clearly in sight.

Rice, the defending state champion, had not had an optimal performance and was headed for fourth or fifth as she ramped up to a full sprint.

Donaghu had run alongside senior teammate Parkes Kendrick until the final corner and was near collapse having spent her energy on the first 4,980 meters of the 5,000-meter course.
Rice caught her - nearly.

The timing chip attached to each runner's shoe clocked both runners in with the same time - 18 minutes, one second, but Donaghu finished fourth with Rice fifth. Another foot and the results would likely have been reversed. In the overall team standings that foot gave Grant the team championship, 66-68, over St. Mary's. Had the positions been reversed the teams would have tied, giving the Blues a share of the school's second state title.

Instead, Grant won its second title, having won the first girls title in 1974.

Even though Rice had an individual title to her name from her sophomore season, that closing burst has stuck with her through the past year.

"That's been there all year," she said after winning the Mount Hood Conference title for the third straight year last week. "This is my shot at redemption."

The drama at the finish of last year's race is one of the reasons the cross country finals the best team event on the OSAA schedule. Each runner competes in two or three races, depending on their school's district results. They race themselves and their personal best, they race the other individuals for placing in the overall standings, and they race runners from other teams, with each placing making a difference in the team standings.

Every year, the team title of at least one of the eight races is decided by that foot or two that separated Rice and Donaghu - often its between runners from the teams battling for first and second.

What puts the cross country finals ahead of other championships is that foot is often between runners well behind the individual champion - those boys or girls dueling for 18th or 33rd or 60th place.

The weight of scoring for each team's top five runners is equal, making those final feet as valuable for fourth as it is for all other spots, regardless of what school the other runner is from so long as its one involved in team scoring.

At Class 3A boys, Union beat East Linn Christian by one point - 93-94. In the final standings, East Linn Christian senior Kody Osborne finished eighth in 16:48. But he finished in a three-man rush in which two other runners were also timed in 18:46 - both ahead of him. Second in the rush was Rich Fettig of Westside Christian, which finished sixth in the team standings. Had Osborne edged Fettig his school would have celebrated its first team title. But, its a result each of the other four members of his team can reflect on - all of them finishing within three seconds of the runner ahead of them.

In the case of St. Mary's, its second finisher, senior Ellen Patterson, was timed in 18:37 - the exact time of West Salem freshman Brooke Chuhlantseff, but Patterson placed eighth in the team scoring instead of seventh. The Blues other three scoring runners all placed within two seconds of the runner ahead of them - each spot making that critical difference in team scoring.

Of course, it works both ways as some runners do catch the person in front of them and that's what makes the team scoring as close as it becomes. That's the drama of the cross country team finals - there's no scoreboard that lets a runner know how those final meters will impact the team scoring. In those final meters, the race is in each runner's head.

Rice's finish, though, ended up having the most drama of the 2012 championships as it was between runners in direct competition in overall scoring, which involves a two-point swing. It's what will drive runners Saturday as they look ahead at the starting line, then look to the right and left at others in the race. The final seconds before the opening gun, those are the ones where everyone on a seven-member team will wonder who will be ahead or behind them in the final meters and will they be able to catch or hold onto their spot on behalf of their school?

 

 

Just give the Ducks a chance

Tue, 10/29/2013 - 6:12am
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So what's a sports fan to do with so many great stories unfolding in front of them in the throes of Autumn?

First off, it's take a listen to the 24th episode of Sportsland, Oregon, 2013, recorded at Blitz Pearl in Northwest Portland Monday night.

Cast members Cliff Pfenning, Derek Weber and Marlon Thomas talk up the Oregon Ducks and their role in the BCS standings, along with the missed shot at a key win that Oregon State had against Stanford.

Also, it's a wonderful time for Major League Baseball fans with the Red Sox and Cardinals playing in the World Series, although the cast has differing opinions on just how wonderful the series has been so far. Maybe there's some drama left in Game 6 or even Game 7 at Fenway Park.

The Timbers have the top spot in the MLS Western Conference wrapped up, but the excitement of the playoffs will only be at its best if their first series is against Northwest rival Seattle.

And then it's off to the NBA, which starts Tuesday with key games featuring the return of Derek Rose to Chicago as it duels with two-time NBA champion Miami, and then the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers battle for supremacy of the Honda Center.

The Blazers open Wednesday at Phoenix with the task of ending their 13-game losing streak from the close of the 2012-13 season.

Episode 24 is online and can be followed via Facebook and iTunes.

College football is the answer

Tue, 10/15/2013 - 8:42am
Cliff Pfenning
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So, if you were like me, you learned a lot about the federal government at 9 p.m. Monday night, Pacific time. That's when the federal government shut down.

My reaction was simple - what's that actually mean?

Will traffic lights still work? They will because they're managed by local governments.

Will schools still open their doors? Yes - local governments.

Will cable still operate? Yes - it's a private business.

The mail? Yes, still there because it's a business, too.

So, what's gonna happen to me?

Will I get a break from photo radar? No way.

Well, that's when the scrolling info on the bottom of my television informed me of the big ticket items:

National parks will be closed. That sucks, but it doesn't affect my daily life.

NASA will shut down. Again, bad news, but we already lost the Space Shuttle and our little guy on Mars doesn't need daily updates, so not a big issue.

Federal employees, many of whom manage the tax system, won't get paid.

And, retirement checks won't get mailed out - there's a big item for older citizens, which I'm not.

I'm basically not affected, other than to wonder if I still have to pay taxes for a government that's not officially working.

Of course I do, because Congress is still getting paid.

And, the military is still operating on foreign soil.

What really happened Monday night is the U.S. just looked stupid to the rest of the world. That's nothing against older Americans and people who operate the government - some of whom I know, but most of America isn't directly affected by the federal government.

Our Congress doesn't even care enough about the nation to pass a budget - a long-term budget, too - to keep itself operating.

Stupid.

Even the nations that have filed for bankruptcy have to be looking over to North America with distain.

That's when it hit me it's time for college football to step up and make the federal budget really important, because what's bad for America is bad for college football.

Yes, college football is the answer to the federal government. And, head coaches are in charge of their programs, so they should step up and make a statement for Americans.

Here's a challenge to the college football coaches of America to step aside on Saturday, or Thursday in the case of Texas, Iowa State, UCLA, Utah, Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Monroe.

Just don't coach, something that will challenge team captains and every player on the roster. Assistants should still work, although they should donate their pay to a non-profit, but the head coach, then every player, should just agree to stop.

How fast would Congress work to pass a budget? Tuesday night might happen, or Wednesday ... Thursday morning at the latest. Texas is playing, and Iowa State wants its chance to hammer the Longhorns just like BYU.

It's not just football, by the way, but college football, which is the most important part of virtually every state in the union. That's why college football head coaches are the highest paid public employee in every state but Alaska.

Pro football is a business, which is why it can shut down and the U.S. still goes about its business. Same thing with Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL. They can all cancel an entire season and still not affect daily life. But, not college football.

Hotels will suffer. Gas stations will suffer. Beer sales will suffer.

If college football were to stop, even for one week, every member of Congress would get voted out of office, even the people who will eventually be on the winning side because there isn't a winning side when the government stops paying itself and looks stupid to the world. Citizens might even hold Congress captive on Capitol Hill, letting members leave only when they agree to have "I stopped college football" tattoed on their foreheads.

College football head coaches are the real source of power in America, and this is their opportunity to showcase that fact on behalf of every American.

Again, here's the challenge to college football head coaches, make that statement for America:

"Congress, get back to work and pass a budget, or there will be pain. Real pain."

2013 RFA Recap

Mon, 06/24/2013 - 6:50am
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Well the 2013 RFA Cup is in the books and I’m very happy to announce that Derek Weber, that’s me, won his, mine, fifth tournament.

We had 21 players competing for the 7th annual RFA Cup and the final three came down to defending Champion Christian Verkest, Adam Willis, Founder of Roofball and 4 time Roofball, Champion and myself. Adam and I advanced to the finals were Adam got off to a Ping Ping start but threw and over in the third inning to flip the score. We traded throws until Adam needed a 15 pointer on his last throw but only ended up with a catch. I threw my last throw not needing anything but got a Ping to finish the Championship match with a score of 44-27.

Six women participants played setting a record for most women competitors in one tournament. Try as they might they could not beat Amy Determan who won her fourth Woman’s Title. One new comer made it to the second round as Jacob Nixon threw back to back 25’s.

The next tournament, the US Open, will be played in September. Stay tuned for more details.

Notes: With the victory I trail Dan O’Riley and Casey Campbell in total tournaments won. They have 6 and 7 respectively. If Adam would have won he would have been the second player to complete the career COW. The COW stands for Cup, Open and Worlds.

Batum trade would spark Blazers

Wed, 06/19/2013 - 9:01am
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The magic that has always seemed to be brewing in Oakland, Calif., with the Golden State Warriors finally happened during the NBA season and made the team the SPORTSLAND, Oregon "Overachievers of the Year" during Monday night's podcast, recorded at Blitz in the Pearl District of Northwest Portland.

The Warriors, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers were other notable selections after the Warriors, who were among the top two picks of the show's four cast menbers: Derek Weber, Marlon Thomas, Michael Chamberlain and host Cliff Pfenning.

Golden State finished 47-35 and sixth in the Western Conference, then won their first-round playoff series over Denver. Last season, the Warriors were 23-43 during the strike-shortened schedule.

And, the other side, "Underachievers of the Year?" Easy: the Los Angeles Lakers.

Los Angeles built itself to win the league title with the acquisition of Dwight Howard and then Steve Nash during the offseason, but the team didn't win any preseason games, got clobbered in Portland in its season opener, and barely reached the playoffs, where they were routinely dispatched by San Antonio.

And Portland? The Blazers continue to be one of the quietest franchises in the NBA, something the panel tosses about as being a good or bad trait.

It's all from Northwest Portland, recorded every Monday night.

2013 RFA Preview

Tue, 06/18/2013 - 1:01pm
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We’re a few days away from the 7th annual RFA Cup. Now I’m sure everyone is aware of the RFA Cup but just in case here’s some background.

The RFA Cup is the middle event in the Roofball season. The simplest explanation of Roofball is: a sport where a player throws a football at a target located on a roof.

Preview time:

On June 23rd 24 players will compete for the 7th annual RFA Cup. Defending Champion Christian Verkest, the youngest champion ever, will try to defend his title against seven time champ, Casey Campbell, six time champ Dan O’Reilly and four time champs Adam Willis, Derek Weber and Buddy Emmons. With a win Casey, Dan and Adam would become the second player ever to win all the major tournaments, the World Championship, RFA Cup and the US Open. Buddy in the mean time looks to win his third RFA Cup.

Other competitors include:

Steve Stupey – 2009 US Open Champ

Beth Willis – 11 time woman’s champion

Amy Determan – Two time woman’s champion

If you’re interested in learning more check out www.roofball.org where you can find out more about the rules, players and records. Interested in showing up watching or possibly playing? Email president@roofball.org.

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