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Higher Level

Ten Rogue Valley women are showcasing their hoop skills at Division I programs in the West

Few would argue that Jackie Woods was one of the best female athletes to ever come out of the Rogue Valley.

Woods' athleticism was on full display in track and field when she won a state title in the shot put, then anchored Ashland High's relay teams as a sprinter.

Speed, strength and power, all wrapped into one 6-foot body.

And track wasn't even Woods' best sport. She excelled even more in basketball, where she evolved into a first-team all-state standout while leading the Grizzlies to three straight Class 4A state tournament appearances.

— Despite all that talent, Woods had a reputation for coasting through some of her games. Imagine what she could do, the Ashland folks said, if she ever found high gear.

Well, she's found it at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Woods is one of 10 local female players who are on Division I rosters across the West.

The others are Amy Denson of Arizona State, Sarah Pool of California, Dani Montgomery of Washington State, Jody McLeod of Montana, Whitney Grant and Hanna Seltzer of Portland and Marla Morin and Whitney Black of Portland State.

Now a senior, Woods has emerged as a starter and team captain for Loyola Marymount. She's averaging 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals for a team that was 10-9 overall and 4-2 in the West Coast Conference entering a game Saturday against Pepperdine.

More importantly, Woods has blossomed as a person. She's no longer the shy girl who wouldn't dare speak in front of a crowd.

I've learned a lot about what I want out of life, says Woods, who grew up in Ashland with three brothers and two sisters while being raised by her mother, Dianna Plunk. I'm a lot more mature and responsible than I was in high school.

Loyola Marymount head coach Julie Wilhoit, whose Lions advanced to the NCAA tournament last season while posting a 24-6 record, couldn't be more pleased with Woods' development in both areas.

It's been really fun to see Jackie grow into a woman and be a force on the court at the same time, says Wilhoit, now in her 10th season with the Lions. When I think back to Jackie's freshman year, I remember how she was so afraid to get up in front of a crowd and speak. Now she's the first one to stand up.

We do a lot of community service work, and she's one of our leaders in that area. It's been such a joy to see her gain that confidence and to know that at this time next year, she'll be flourishing out there in the real world.

Woods will graduate in June with degrees in sociology and African American studies. She plans to remain in Southern California and hopes to get a job in the entertainment industry as a PR representative.

I'm taking a public relations class right now that I really enjoy, she says. And I've got a couple of connections (with the entertainment industry).

On the court, Woods uses her explosiveness to blow past defenders and get into passing lanes. Her 41 steals in 19 games rank fifth in the West Coast Conference.

Not bad for a power forward.

I think I've become a more well-rounded player over the years, says Woods, who was Loyola Marymount's first player off the bench last season. I see the court better, I get some assists, some rebounds, some steals, and I can score. But I think the biggest thing is, I'm an emotional player that brings a lot of energy.

Woods is probably talented enough to play basketball at a higher level, but she has arthritis in her ankles, and her doctor has advised her to give up the game after this season.

I love my school, my team and the coaching staff, but I'm glad it's coming to an end so I can start a second phase in life, Woods says.

Here's a look at the other local players (Denson and Pool appear in adjoining story):

DANI MONTGOMERY,

Washington State: Despite her true-freshman status, Montgomery has quickly found extended playing time with the Cougars.

The 5-9&

189; guard-forward tallied 11 points last Thursday in helping the Cougars defeat California 79-69 for their first Pac-10 Conference win.

Montgomery has played shooting guard, small forward and even power forward for the Cougars (5-13, 1-8 Pac-10 entering Saturday), who lack size.

She took an elbow to the face in the game against Cal and was sporting a black eye this weekend.

The speed and size of the girls is way different than last year, says Montgomery, who was the SOC's player of the year in 2004. Everyone is faster and bigger.

But I feel like I'm holding my own and I'm excited about getting so much playing time as a freshman.

WHITNEY GRANT,

Portland: Grant has been the workhorse of a Portland team that has been decimated by injuries.

The 5-6 junior point guard from South Medford has played an average of 37.5 minutes per game and has logged all 40 minutes in eight contests for the Pilots (6-13, 1-5 West Coast Conference entering Saturday).

Grant's minutes ratcheted up after Hanna Seltzer, the former Ashland High star, went down with a season-ending torn knee ligament in November. Seltzer was the Pilots' starting shooting guard and backed up Grant at the point.

It's been tough, but when Hanna went down, I kind of prepared myself (for playing more minutes), Grant says. Once you get in the flow of the game, you don't think about how much you're playing. You just reach down for that something extra.

With the vocal Seltzer now on the sidelines, the naturally quiet Grant has become more of an outspoken leader.

I tend to lead by example, but I'm definitely more of a vocal leader than I was in high school, Grant says. The coaches have emphasized that I take on a more vocal role, and that's what I'm doing. I want everyone to be prepared.

Grant ranks ninth in the West Coast Conference in assists (2.6), 10th in free-throw percentage (.727) and 17th in scoring (9.8). She recently moved into fourth place on Portland's career list for made 3-pointers.

Grant has also excelled in the classroom, where she carries a 3.8 grade-point average. She'll graduate in the spring of 2006 with a business degree in marketing and a minor in health and physical education. She'd like to get into sports marketing or possibly go to work at Nike.

I'd also like to get into coaching, Grant says. I think basketball will always be a part of my life.

HANNA SELTZER, Portland: Seltzer crumpled to the floor with a torn ACL in a game against Cal Poly on Nov. 26. Her ballhandling, outside shooting and grit were key components for the Pilots.

In a cruel twist of fate, Seltzer's replacement in the game against Cal Poly ' freshman standout Amanda Afa'ese ' tore her ACL four minutes after Seltzer left the court. Senior forward Ashlee Orndorff is also sidelined with a knee injury.

Seltzer ranks sixth on Portland's all-time 3-point list with 83 made.

JODY MCLEOD, Montana: The former Crater High standout starts at power forward for the Grizzlies, who lead the Big Sky Conference (11-6, 4-0 league entering Saturday).

The 6-foot McLeod is averaging just 3.5 points per game but is the second-leading rebounder on the team at 6.1.

Jody's strength is her rebounding, says Montana coach Robin Selvig, who has guided the Grizzlies to 15 NCAA tournament berths in 27 seasons while amassing an eye-catching 612-179 record. She's aggressive, but she also has a knack for knowing where the ball is coming off the rim.

Offensively, we're looking for her to click a little more. She's a good shooter, but right now she lacks confidence.

McLeod helped her confidence with an 11-point, 14-rebound performance last Thursday when the Grizzlies rolled to a 73-53 win over Portland State. It marked the fourth double-double of her college career.

McLeod relishes the college and the town (Missoula) in which it's located.

I love it here in Montana, she says. It's a beautiful area, the school is great and we get good fan support.

The school's 7,500-seat arena was packed to the rafters last March when Montana played Louisiana Tech in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. The Grizzlies led in the last few minutes but wound up losing 81-77.

It was a great experience, McLeod says.

McLeod, a redshirt junior, will graduate this spring with a business degree in marketing and management. She plans to pursue a masters degree in business beginning next fall and will finish out her basketball eligibility during the 2005-06 season.

MARLA MORIN, Portland State: Morin went to PSU on a volleyball scholarship and has excelled in that sport. The ex-Ashland High ace joined the Vikings' hoop team in Game 5 and is now one of its top reserves.

I didn't realize what a talented basketball player Marla is ' she just kind of fell into my lap, says first-year PSU coach Charity Elliott.

Morin, who redshirted in volleyball last season, approached Elliott in late November about joining the Vikings' basketball squad.

We had a couple of kids get hurt, we had a girl with (mononucleosis) and so we were short-handed, says Elliott, whose Vikings have struggled to a 2-13 record (entering Saturday). I thought, hey, let's give this kid a shot.

Morin, who has never lacked confidence, sank a pair of 3-point baskets in a 77-50 loss to Brigham Young on Jan. 8 and had her best game on Jan. 22 in an 82-74 loss to Idaho State when she registered nine points, four rebounds and two assists.

Each day in practice, I'm seeing Marla do a little more, says Elliott, who started Morin for the first time in Thursday's loss to Montana. She's so coachable and working so hard. She's been a very pleasant surprise.

She'll get more playing time as she gets more comfortable with what we do.

WHITNEY BLACK, Portland State: The freshman guard from Crater has a chronic foot injury that has her basketball career in jeopardy.

She has some degeneration in her foot and if she continues to play, she'll have some major pain, Elliott says.

Black, who practiced with the Vikings for the first three weeks of the season, had problems with her right foot while still in high school. But they've grown worse.

Black will retain her scholarship for this school year but will lose it in the fall if she's no longer with the team.

KERSTIN BROSTERHOUS, Oregon State: The 6-2 sophomore post is averaging 10.2 minutes, 2.2 points and 2.0 rebounds for the Beavers, who were 5-14 overall and 1-9 in the Pac-10 going into Saturday's home game against UCLA.

Brosterhous, known as Kerstin Mellbye prior to changing her name last June, was a first-team all-conference player for North Medford High in 2003. She averaged about 18 points and nine rebounds that season for the Black Tornado.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail