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Their time to shine

Setbacks could have derailed them.

Presented with unique challenges, former South Medford High basketball standouts Ashley Bolston and Andee Ritter both chose to keep fighting.

Their toughness is paying off now.

The 6-foot-2 Bolston is averaging 13 points, six rebounds and a team-best 5.3 assists for NCAA Division I Portland State University. The senior guard nearly recorded a quadruple-double in a 92-79 victory over the University of Portland on December 1, tallying 19 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and nine steals.

It’s been a long time coming, Bolston says, after leaving Washington State University her freshman year, waiting a season to play at PSU and recovering from hip surgery last year.

“I feel like I’ve been in college forever,” she says with a laugh.

The 23-year-old Bolston, who also averages 2.8 steals for the Vikings, had a triple-double of 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against UC Davis on Nov. 16. The triple and quadruple efforts place Bolston third in the NCAA in the category, with Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu ranking first (six triple-doubles).

There have only been four quadruple-double performances in Division I women’s basketball history, the most recent being Grambling State’s Shakyla Hill in 2018.

The game against UC Davis sticks out for Bolston more than the contest against the Pilots.

“I couldn’t believe I did it,” she says of her first collegiate triple-double. “I drove to Medford after that game and everyone was talking about it. The second time around it wasn’t as big a deal. ... My parents (Donald Bolston and Tammy Hoefft) were up in stands yelling, ‘One more steal.’”

After a stellar prep career, Bolston signed with WSU. Her experience in Pullman, Washington, only lasted one frustrating season.

“I went there loving everything about it,” the criminal justice major says. “I got there and it wasn’t a good fit.”

Bolston weighed her options for transferring before focusing on the University of Utah and Southern Oregon University. After an official visit to Salt Lake City and an appeals process, Bolston was set to become a Ute. But then Utah head coach Anthony Levrets (a former SOU men’s basketball assistant) was fired, and that changed Bolston’s decision.

Bolston connected with former SOU women’s coach Lynn Kennedy to see how she might fit with the NAIA Raiders. She never suited up for SOU, but still ended up playing for Kennedy. He took the head coaching gig there and offered Bolston the chance to join.

That redshirt season, Bolston says she healed herself.

“Going to WSU made me grow,” she says. “It kind of broke me mentally and physically. I didn’t even wanna play basketball anymore. Redshirt year for me was getting back into it, loving the game again.”

Bolston is a captain for the Vikings, who are 13-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big Sky Conference.

“As of right now our goal is to keep winning and try to win the Big Sky Conference tournament and go to NCAA tournament,” says Bolston, who also missed eight games last year with a hip labral tear.

The Vikings have been on the rise under Kennedy, going 19-13 last year after finishes of 16-17 during the 16-17 season and 4-26 his first season. He’s known Bolston for years, and has watched the athletic playmaker evolve.

“She’s so unique as a 6-2 guard who can go down low and post up, attack from the outside, shoot from outside,” he says. “Her biggest strength is her passing. She can read defenses and see how defenses develop. We’re really fortunate to have her. We will miss her when she graduates this spring.”

Ritter, Bolston’s old teammate, has become equally important for the DI Anteaters. The 21-year-old senior ranks second in program history with 181 career 3-pointers made and is seventh with 166 steals. She needs 18 more 3s to break the all-time school record, set by Kathy Lizarraga (1988-92).

The 6-foot shooting guard is averaging 11.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game for UC Irvine (12-4, 2-2 Big West Conference).

Ritter is 34-for-93 from deep and averages 2.3 3-point makes per game while playing a team-high 31.8 minutes.

During her sophomore campaign, Ritter eclipsed a 28-year-old single-season school record with her 65th 3-pointer. She finished the year with 87 treys, including a single-game program record of seven at UC Riverside.

Knee surgery kept Ritter sidelined during some of the most important games of her junior and senior seasons at South Medford. She later had the meniscus removed in the same right knee before her freshman campaign at UCI, but opted to play the second half of the year.

Tamara Inoue and her staff took over the Anteater program before Ritter’s breakout sophomore campaign.

“Andee’s been an absolute dream,” Inoue says. “She’s not a person of many words, but she’s got a work ethic behind her. My first year coming here, we ran every play for her. I knew she could be good. That first year every play was for her. ... She always finds a way to get her shot off. Her height helps, being a little taller, but it all comes down to confidence and reps. She’s got the right footwork and positioning and she likes to let it fly.”

Ten pounds of added muscle have helped Ritter withstand the physicality of NCAA sports, she says.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I can stand my ground a little,” she says.

Ritter’s captain designation is the real deal too, Inoue says.

“She’s been a captain the last two years and that’s legit,” she says. “She was unanimously voted. Kids and players highly respect her.”

Ritter says she appreciates Inoue and her staff.

“We’re blessed to have these coaches,” says Ritter, who is a sociology major with a psychology and social behavior minor. “They really want us to get better. They push us every day.”

The gratitude is mutual for Inoue.

“When we got here she had the opportunity to transfer and go anywhere else, and she wanted to stay here,” she says. “We’re just happy she stayed here. It speaks to her character. She’s giving us a shot, and we really appreciate that.”

Reach freelance writer Dan Jones at dljcards@gmail.com.

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