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South's in good hands

Senior point guard Whitney Grant has balanced a 4.0 gpa and all-star acclaim in three sports in making an undeniable impression on the Panthers

Mail Tribune

Whitney Grant is well on her way to valedictorian status, but it's unlikely the South Medford High senior will be making any speeches at graduation or anytime in between.

Too many practices have left too little time to stack another line on an already impressive high school resume. That rare honor will most likely have to go to someone else with a weighty 4.0 grade point average.

In lieu of that, Grant has let her actions on the athletic field do all the talking.

An all-conference selection in soccer, basketball and track and field, Grant's words of wisdom will be needed more than ever as she leads a young group of Panthers into the Class 4A girls basketball state playoffs.

Of the current lineup at South, Grant will be the only player with extended playoff experience to lean on when the Panthers play host to the winner of today's Westview-Silverton game in Thursday's opener for the No. — seed from the Southern Oregon Conference.

The 5-foot-6 Grant is the team's lone senior and has been a three-year starter at point guard for the Panthers. Of her current teammates, only juniors Natasha Wright and Beth Mueller saw varsity action last year, and Mueller's minutes were limited.

That said, South Medford coach Andrea Jaime firmly believes her team is in good hands with Grant at the helm.

"She's definitely our team leader and leads by example," says Jaime. "She always finds a positive way with the rest of her teammates to motivate them. I've never seen her get on anybody in a negative way and I think that has had a great deal to do with our success."

Despite replacing almost its entire lineup, South regrouped in fine form to post a 14-9 overall and 10-4 SOC record this season.

Much of the credit has been placed on Grant's shoulders, and an alteration in playing style that had her distributing the ball more than ever before.

"She could have scored 25 points per game and we could have been fifth or sixth in the league," says Jamie, "or she scores 14 or 15 points and we're in third.

"It was all about her knowing that she doesn't have to do everything. If she makes everyone else better by how she plays and her leadership, then it's a lot easier for us to succeed."

Heading into Thursday's playoff game, Grant is averaging 14.4 points, 2.9 assists, 3.2 steals and 3.2 rebounds per game.

Grant is only 68 points behind the school's career scoring leader, Kellie Thomas (920), and has already taken over the lead in career assists (234) and steals (214) this season. She also ranks ninth in rebounds (254).

Grant also owns the school record in the long jump.

"I never thought that I'd have that many records or all those accomplishments," the 18 year old says in looking back over her prep career. "But you don't get records like the one for assists unless you have teammates who make shots, so that falls along having good teammates more than anything I've done."

All modesty aside, great things seem to happen year after year when the ball is in Grant's hands.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in the state playoffs.

"When it's time to take care of business," says Jaime, "she gets her game-face on and takes care of it. The higher the level, the more she rises to the occasion."

That's one aspect of Grant's game she can't defer to others.

"I think I play better under pressure, and I guess there's more pressure in those games knowing that if you lose, that's it," Grant says of the playoffs. "I love the competition. I just want to play as long as I can and want the season to last as long as possible."

That's exactly why you'll rarely see Grant on the sidelines. It's just a tossup on whether Jaime can't afford to take her out or is simply unable to keep the senior all-star on the bench.

"She's the heart and soul of this team," says the South coach. "Unless we're blowing someone out by 20 points, she's not going to leave the floor."

Evidence of that fact was South's final game of the regular season.

Despite being down by more than 20 points to second-ranked Crater, Grant was still out on the court in the waning seconds with the Panthers' second-teamers. She even induced a charging foul with six seconds to play in the 78-54 contest.

"Whitney's not going to quit," says Jaime. "She has that never-say-die attitude. It doesn't matter what's going on, in practice or games, she's going to play 100 percent all the time."

Then again, what else would you expect from a straight-A student who excels in athletics on a year-round basis?

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

South's in good hands