Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Never before had South Medford girls basketball coach Tom Cole seen such emotion from Ashley Bolston, his lanky but talented freshman.
The observation came four years ago in a Class 6A state consolation game against Tigard in Portland. Senior Hannah Curtius had fouled out late in the contest, prompting Cole to send in Bolston.
The Panthers lost in overtime, but not without a fight from the first-year player.
"I remember watching her face and seeing how competitive she was and seeing the frustration and tears," Cole recalls. "I thought, 'This kid is a competitor. She is going to help us in years to come.'"
His thought came true, big time.
The Washington State-bound Bolston evolved into one of the program's most dominant figures. Cole calls the versatile guard/forward "the most talented kid that we have had in my seven years." WSU head coach June Daugherty calls her one of the best in the state and nation.
This season, the 18-year-old Bolston has averaged 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while accumulating loads of assists, steals and blocks. With long arms, a solid frame and quick legs, the Panthers' lone senior can play just about any position against just about anybody. The McDonald's All-American nominee has collected 10 double-doubles in 16 games. She has had five or more steals on five occasions, five or more assists seven times and three or more blocks five times.
With Bolston on the team, South (13-3) has gone 88-15 overall, advanced to the state tournament three straight years, won a 6A state title in undefeated fashion her sophomore year and lost in the state championship last winter.
At times she's done her damage against some of the nation's best, and at times she's done it in a Southern Oregon Hybrid conference that's had few answers to stopping her.
"At 6-2, to play the 1, 2, 3 and 4 like she does, are you kidding me?" Daugherty says. "She is so talented. We are really proud to have her joining our Cougar program."
Bolston's senior resume is jaw-dropping: she recorded a career-high 38 points with 15 rebounds in a close loss to Salesian, Calif., at the St. Mary's Invitational on Jan. 18; she went for 33 points, a school-record 13 steals and six rebounds in a win over defending 5A state champion Willamette on Dec. 20; she had 23 points, 10 rebounds, eight steals and five assists in a loss to Lynwood, Wash., at the Southridge Tournament on Dec. 7; and she turned in 15 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists, five steals and three blocks in a win over Nazareth of Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Title IX Tournament on Dec. 28.
"She is a fantastic player," teammate Julissa Tago says. "She sees the court so well and looks for her teammates first. She makes it look effortless when she does it."
Adds teammate Andee Ritter: "She is our leader and our senior."
Bolston has played since elementary school in White City. She dominated pick-up games at her grandmother Lucille Hoefft's home in White City with her cousins Kourtney Hoefft and Karley Hoefft and her older brother Donald Bolston, Jr. The backboard was made of plywood and the playing surface was rough. She also often played with cousin Jonathan Bolston (a former Eagle Point standout) on family trips to Georgia, where her father Donald is from.
Bolston, who moved to Medford her eighth-grade year, has a wealth of club experience with the Panther AAU team, Portland-based Team Concept, the Northwest Blazers and East Bay Xplosion, travelling across the map to compete with and against the nation's other top talents, including Mercedes Russell, Jaime Nared and Kailee Johnson.
Bolston grew about three inches between her freshman and sophomore campaigns and an inch more her sophomore year, when she averaged 12 points for a Panther squad that went 30-0.
"I still watch game film," Bolston says of the school's championship victory over Westview.
Bolston was named SOH player of the year and was a first-team all-state selection last season, when she averaged 14.8 points a game. The Panthers' bid for second straight 6A state title came up short against Central Catholic that year.
Washington State was Bolston's pick because she says she felt comfortable with the coaching staff, which includes seventh-year head coach Daugherty.
"She really hit it off with our kids here," Daugherty recalls. "They were impressed with her maturity even though she was just finishing up her sophomore year in high school."
She verbally committed her junior year to the Cougars, who finished 11-20 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-12 last winter.
"That is why I verballed as quickly as I did," Bolston says. "I liked the coaches and the players there."
Dozens of other schools pursued her, including Oregon, Loyola Marymount, Arizona State, San Diego State, Santa Clara, UNLV, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon State. Bolston has a shoe box and another larger box filled with letters from colleges.
Daugherty watched her extensively and says she loved everything about her. She calls Bolston a "quality kid" with a high basketball I.Q.
"She is one of those kids who comes along every once in a while," Daugherty says. "Someone who makes everyone around her better."
Away from the hardwood Bolston is a normal teenager. Her favorite NBA player is Stephen Curry, she has four pairs of Kobe Bryant's signature sneakers and she enjoys hanging out with friends.
"She always makes you laugh," Tago says. "She's always making me smile when I have a bad day. ... She is a really positive and upbeat person."
Bolston also volunteers at Kids Unlimited, helping children with tasks like homework. She helped with the local rotary basketball club as her senior project, never missing a game or practice, Cole says.
"It's a beautiful thing," Daugherty says of Bolston's volunteer work.
Says Bolston: "I do it because of Tom (Cole) [who is the director there]. "He does a lot for us. I want to help him out."
Seeing Bolston grow into the person she is now is better than any basketball statistic, Cole says.
"That is bigger than any accolade," he says.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt