LA GRANDE — The La Grande Tigers officially welcomed in a new member of the Greater Oregon League last week.

The Oregon School Activities Association finalized its new classifications and districts on Monday, Dec. 13, aligning Pendleton in the Greater Oregon League. While the two teams have played as nonleague opponents across most sports in recent years, the new alignment brings a heightened level of competition to the 4A level and officially renews a rivalry.

“Any time we have to add a team, you want it to be a competitive team,” La Grande baseball coach Parker McKinley said.

Pendleton has a strong track record across high school sports, adding a set of competitive teams to La Grande’s league schedules in years to come. The Buckaroos went 9-2 in football this fall and made the 5A playoffs, losing to Dallas in the first round. La Grande’s recent success on the gridiron will now have to go through Pendleton if the Tigers hope to repeat as Greater Oregon League champions.

Buckaroos on deck

On the diamond, the addition of Pendleton to the Greater Oregon League would add a baseball powerhouse alongside the Tigers. The Buckaroos went 15-3 in the 2021 spring season and split the season series 1-1 against La Grande.

“I think it’ll be good for our league,” McKinley said. “We kind of know what to expect. They’re tough every year and their kids play hard.”

McKinley noted that Pendleton’s record at the 5A level speaks for itself and that the Buckaroos will improve the landscape of 4A baseball. The teams will likely match up four times per year now, with each team hosting two home games.

McKinley said that the addition of Pendleton would likely result in the Tigers adjusting their pitching strategies mid-season in order to plan ahead for the Buckaroos.

“It’s like playoff baseball every time we play,” he said.

Clean sheet

For head coach Sam Brown and the La Grande girls soccer team, a heightened level of competition is seen as a good sign. The Tigers have dominated the Greater Oregon League for over a decade in girls soccer and now welcome one of their top competitors into the newly aligned league.

Brown noted that, like other sports, the girls soccer team previously faced Pendleton in nonleague matchups. The difference will be playing the Buckaroos twice every year, as opposed to once or twice a year based on when the two teams can schedule each other.

“For us, I don’t know that it makes a tremendous difference,” Brown said. “I think it’s helpful to use in the rankings.”

In the 2021 fall season, La Grande lost to Pendleton 6-0 on Sept. 13 and defeated the Buckaroos 2-0 on Oct. 11. Brown stated that Pendleton is always tough competition, with potential victories helping the Tigers climb up the OSAA state rankings.

“My hope is that we can continue winning the GOL, but that’s never a given,” he said.

Wrestlers unsure of new district

In 4A wrestling, teams are selected into classifications and then the wrestling community divides the teams into four even divisions. A committee made up of representatives from the 4A schools work on recommendations for the new districts, which OSAA then recognizes.

The divisions are selected in order to make the most balanced overall districts, based on average turnout of wrestlers on the team over the last three seasons. The districts are not necessarily based on location, which is why La Grande wrestling is currently in the same district as Gladstone.

La Grande boys wrestling coach Klel Carson noted that Pendleton will likely be in the same district as La Grande, but it is not a guarantee based on the system in place to determine districts. According to Carson, the district alignment for boys wrestling is still in the works.

“There’s a couple proposals and ideas with numbers still being pushed around,” Carson said.

For the La Grande wrestling team, a change in classification won’t result in many major changes to scheduling. The Tigers and Buckaroos typically compete in the annual Pendleton Duals, as well as facing Pendleton at the Muilenburg in La Grande or at other tournaments.

Carson noted that with individual sports like wrestling, the schedule does not adjust as it might in sports like football or basketball. La Grande competes in a regular slate of big tournaments outside the area and will see an adjustment of teams only once the team makes it to districts.

“I think our schedule will mostly be the same,” Carson said.

The Tigers currently compete in the 4A Special District 4, which includes Baker/Powder Valley, Corbett, Gladstone, Madras, McLoughlin/Weston-McEwen, Ontario and Sisters.

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