By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Believe it or not, spring sports are under way

If you hadn’t noticed, the weather has shifted slightly in the last week or two. The fairly dry winter we’ve been having has been transitioning to a more moist, slightly (heavy emphasis on slightly) warmer state that will undoubtedly turn into the usual monsoon season of March and April.

Must be time to start spring sports.

High school teams around the state of Oregon began spring sports practices Monday, and the first games and matches start March 11. Excuse me while I look around in bewildered confusion. Is basketball season really coming to a close?

Spring sports always sneak up on me for the simple reason I use the weather as my guide to prepare for baseball season. Of course, if the entire state used this method, we wouldn’t open the spring sports season until at least May when the number of rainy days dwindled and was at least even with the number of sunny days.

Looking around the Yamhill Valley, this spring should prove to be a transitional one. The entrenched, big stars that we have relied on the past few years to wow us, are gone. McMinnville track stars Ashante Horsley and Ariel Oliver have moved on to college. Horsley at the University of Oregon and Oliver at San Diego State University. A.J Hedgecock — last year’s 3A boys state track and field athlete of the year — is now at Oregon State University playing football.

In boys tennis, McMinnville’s No. 1 Jesse Stahl is gone, and the Grizzlies are already working on finding his replacement. In golf, Grant Geelan and Ryan Aker — Mac’s two state qualifiers from last year — have graduated. There is also some change for Grizzlies baseball. All-conference outfielder Spencer Payne, who is having surgery to repair a broken wrist in the next week, won’t be able to play this year. But he can still run, and Mac coach Vic Downs now has another speedy sprinter to compliment Kane Kennedy.

The Mac baseball team should be a fun group to watch this spring. The Grizzlies struggled at times last spring but had an outstanding summer league season. Playing all of those summer games will surely pay dividends for Mac in the coming months.

Speaking of replacements, there are two new coaches at Mac. Courtney Seifert replaces Kylee Nichols as the McMinnville softball coach. Chris Brooker is also in as the new Mac boys golf coach, replacing Jas Carpenter.

Around the county, the Willamina softball team is moving on without their state-championship winning coach, Brad Chewning. Chewning battled some very serious medical issues last season and didn’t coach for part of the season while he recovered. He resigned in the offseason, and Scott Vang was hired to replace him. Vang comes with his own baggage, but he coached for 15 years at Barlow High School and brings a lot of experience to what has been one of the best programs in 3A for the past decade.

All of this change and transition, of course, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a down year for local spring sports. Quite the opposite. There’s youth and there are new faces. The graduation of some of the area’s best athletes has opened the door for the players and competitors who learned and watched under them. This spring could provide the chance for these fresh faces to make their own mark on their teams.

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