First-ever cheer championship highlights COVID recovery

The Lebanon High School Cheer Team performs during its state championship title run at the OSAA Cheerleading State Championships, which took place Feb. 12 at Oregon City High School. Provided photo

Lebanon High School’s sports program is still feeling effects of the year-long COVID shutdown, but the Warriors are on the rise, Athletic Director Kraig Hoene said.
Lebanon is seeing very good participation numbers in team sports and, although individual sports like track are still down a bit, interest appears to be growing, he said as the Warriors launch into their spring season which starts March 14.
That is after the cheer squad won its first-ever state title, with a group that doesn’t include a single senior on the varsity. In fact, all the performers were freshmen and sophomores, outscoring second-place Ridgeview (97.30 points) and third-place West Albany (95.20) with a penalty-free final score of 100.80.
“(Coach) Jenny (Pickles) has been bringing this group up since they were younger,” Hoene said. “They performed well in a big-time event. That’s good. It’s exciting. And we have a pretty good eighth-grade group coming up.”
Up next is the dance state championships, where Lebanon’s dancers will be seeking their fourth state championship on March 19 after finishing second in 2019.
“The dance girls have a shot at getting another one,” Hoene said.
The Warriors missed the playoffs in both boys and girls basketball as the boys finished fifth in the Mid-Willamette Conference with a 9-13 record overall, 6-10 in league, and the girls sixth at 7-9, 9-14.
Coach Mardy Benedict only had two seniors on a roster that was heavy with juniors who had missed a lot of playing time, thanks to two years of COVID, and Kelsey Guzon was out with injuries for part of the season.
“Guzon would have made a difference,” Hoene said.
“I think both programs did some things. We made some good steps forward.”
Across town, the East Linn Christian Academy boys made the state playoffs in basketball, advancing to the first round, where they finished the season 10-4, 21-9 overall.
In swimming, Lebanon’s Jacob Pearson was the Warriors’ only state placer, taking fifth at state in the 100 Backstroke.
In wrestling, Landon Carver placed fourth at state, and Jack Shanks was sixth. Freshman Isaac Jordan didn’t place at state, but he qualified – at 220 pounds, after placing fourth in the district.
“He had his second match won at state,” Hoene said. “He was up by a point with 15 seconds left and he relaxed and his opponent got his heel to score.”
The Warriors look promising in both baseball and softball, he said.
“In baseball we have sophomores and a junior class with depth. A lot of them played on the varsity as sophomores last year. We’re going to have to figure out ways to get kids innings. We have a nice variety of arms.”
The baseball team opens with a non-league game at West Albany Tuesday, March 15, then heads to Vero Beach, Fla., to play in the JRTC Tournament starting Sunday, March 20.
Softball, also coached by Benedict, opens at home Tuesday, March 15, against Philomath, then heads to North Medford for the Spring Break Invitational Tournament March 21-22.
“In our league, both baseball and softball are strong,” Hoene said. “If we can stay injury-free, I think we have a chance to be pretty strong. Hopefully, we have this COVID thing behind us now.”
In track the Warriors welcome back junior Jackson Parrish, who was third in the long jump (20-6) and sixth in the triple jump (40-9¼) for the boys at state last year. Also back is senior Blake Seibert, who was sixth in the javelin with a throw of 164-8.
On the girls side, sophomore Alyse Fountain returns after competing in both the short sprints at state last year. Hayden Knutson, also a sophomore, was 14th in the long jump at state, and junior Saide Voight was 15th in the 300 hurdles.
“There’s some individual kids that are going to be there,” Hoene said. “We have a couple of kids who have a chance to perform well, at a high level, at state.”
In golf, the Warriors have good numbers – six on the girls side, and a couple of freshmen who bring experience to the boys team, Hoene said.
“I think the boys varsity will be a pretty solid squad.
The girls tennis team is numbering some 30 players, while the boys are “still trying to build some numbers,” he said.