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England assumes prominent role for SOU women

ASHLAND-- At the tender age of 17, Melissa England played significant minutes for the top-ranked NAIA women's college basketball team in the country.

That was last winter.

One year later, the 18-year-old England -- a 5-foot-9 former Illinois Valley High post player -- is a starting sophomore wing and leading scorer for the seventh-ranked Southern Oregon University Raiders.

She's pretty young, but she's handled the adjustment just fine to this level, says SOU head coach Shirley Huyett. There's really no reason to hold her back, or protect her from anything because she's younger than everybody on the court. She's doing very well.

To say the least.

England is SOU's best outside shooter, best free-throw shooter and best 3-point shooter.

I'm a lot more comfortable starting this year than I was last year coming off the bench, says England.

England has only missed one start during SOU's initial eight games. She didn't start the Stratford Inn Tournament opener last Friday against Dominican College because she was late getting to the gym.

I expected to be punished, but I was ready to do something about it, says England. I was ready to play, and my shot was on from the start.

She came off the Raiders' bench to score 26 points in an 85-36 win.

I was pretty determined coming in, says England. I wanted to show the coach something.

England scored seven points in SOU's championship game loss to George Fox (60-56) Saturday night and was named an all-tournament selection.

That was a little bit of a surprise I made all-tournament because I only scored seven points Saturday, but it was a nice surprise, says England. It had to be good for my confidence.

After backing up post players Nada Janackovic and Denise Berry last year, England has discovered she likes being on the wing, further from the basket.

She tops the Raiders (5-3) in scoring with an average of 10.6 points a game, leads in 3-point shooting percentage (39.1) and in free-throw shooting (82.9 percent).

She is also tied with wing Lauren Mohan in 3-pointers made with nine.

I feel I belong out there because of my shooting and the other things I can do, says England.

But at 5-foot-9, England can still go to the basket and jockey for inside position and rebound and score, Huyett says.

She may not look like it, but she's actually real strong, says Huyett. She's a real battler.

England's youth hasn't hurt her in the classroom, either. She carries a 3.8 grade-point average in English, and hopes to become an elementary teacher following her fifth-year program in education.

Since she will be at SOU for five years, England could redshirt a year to give her an extra year of development and maturity.

There's no reason to do that, she says. I'm happy with how I'm playing and my goal is to be teaching after five years here.''

She says she would also like to coach girls basketball. Ideally, she'd teach at an elementary school and coach that district's high school team.

What kind of a coach would she be?

I'd be a little hard on my players, she says, to get the most out of them.

And yes, she says, she'd even punish them if they were late.

Photo by Drew Fleming Melissa England, an 18-year-old sophomore from Cave Junction, leads the Raiders in scoring.