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Home-grown talent does it all for SOU

File photo

Michelle Westerberg, right, hails from Ashland.

ASHLAND -- Michelle Westerberg does a little bit of everything for the Southern Oregon University women's basketball team.

She can play on the perimeter or the interior. She can hit the 3-point shot or attack the basket on the drive. She can defend a guard or muscle up to a post player.

And she can run the court like a gazelle in sneakers.

Westerberg scores 12 points per game -- third best on the team -- but her versatility makes her a treasured player on a team that has won 25 of 28 games and is ranked No. 2 in the NAIA national poll.

The Raiders enter the postseason at 7 tonight when they meet defending national champion Northwest Nazarene at McNeal Pavilion.

Westerberg is a good athlete who plays both ends of the court very well, SOU coach Shirley Huyett says. She's very quick for her size.

The 5-foot-11 Westerberg often finds herself in the shadows of 6-2 Nada Janackovic and 6-0 Denise Berry, the Raiders' top two scorers and rebounders.

But Westerberg has proved to be the Raiders' best outside shooter and one of their best free-throw shooters. She has made 37.1 percent of her 3-point attempts, fifth-best in the Cascade Conference, and her 81.8 percent accuracy from the foul line ranks her fifth in that category.

How many points I score and how many shots I take depends on what the other team is doing, Westerberg says. We get the ball inside a lot to Nada (Janackovic) and Denise (Berry), but if teams sag on them and I get open shots, then I'm going to take them.

Westerberg grew up in Ashland and had no qualms about leaving home for college. In fact, she nearly took off for Linfield College to play softball, which was her best sport in high school. And she considered accepting a scholarship to Pacific University in Forest Grove, where she could have played both sports.

But in the end, Westerberg decided to move just a couple of miles up the road and play hoops for the Raiders. SOU does not have a softball program.

The girls on the team made me feel so welcome, Westerberg says. On my recruiting visit, they were so nice and so sincere. I knew this was the place for me.

Former Raiders Melissa Bogh and Adrianne VanMeer were the ones who took Westerberg under their wings. When Westerberg saw their friendly faces at an Ashland convenience store several days later, she was all the more sold on SOU.

They rushed up to me and asked me if I was coming, Westerberg says. How could I say no?

Bogh, the Raiders' all-time leading scorer, graduated last year and moved away. VanMeer left the team after Westerberg's freshman year.

But Westerberg is perfectly happy with her decision to stay put, particularly because it keeps her close to her parents, Craig and Shirley, and younger brother Eric, an eighth-grader at Ashland Middle School. And while she moved out of her family's home when she went to SOU, it sure feels good to get a home-cooked meal anytime I want one.

Westerberg's parents attend all of SOU's home games and some of the road games. She was glad they attended a game in Salem two years ago when she crashed to the court and ripped open a huge gash on the left side of her forehead.

The wound required at least 25 stitches -- the doctor quit counting, Michelle says -- and left her with a concussion.

I was knocked out cold, Westerberg says. When I woke up, my dad was standing over me. I didn't know I was hurt so bad.

Westerberg healed quickly, however, as she missed only two weeks and returned to the court with a bandage on her head.

I'm not quite so apt to dive after a loose ball now, especially if I know I'm probably not going to get it, Westerberg says. ``I'm still an aggressive player, but you've got to have some regard for your body.

Westerberg, who was never on a playoff team at Ashland High, is tickled to be an integral part of one of the premier small-college women's teams in the country.

But after getting to the national semifinals a year ago, Westerberg says she and her teammates won't be satisfied with anything less than a national title.

When you've won a lot of games, it's not the wins you remember -- it's the losses, Westerberg says.

The Raiders launch their bid for a national championship tonight against Northwest Nazarene.

Chances are, Westerberg will do her part. A rebound here, a steal there, baskets from everywhere.

She even jumps center for us, Huyett says.

Home-grown talent does it all for SOU