It wasn’t long ago that South Medford’s Ula Chamberlin found herself as a wide-eyed freshman in the audience as she watched senior girls basketball teammates Julissa Tago and Jasmin Falls go through their national letter of intent ceremony.
Her view on Wednesday turned out to be even better, with Chamberlin joined by fellow Panthers Whitney Winans, Jaden Alexander and Maddie Dalke at the main table for their own signing ceremony in the upper gym at South Medford High in front of about 60 family and friends on the first day of the early signing period.
Along with her beaming smile brought an even broader sense of relief for Chamberlin, who has dreamed of this day since watching her cohorts put pen to paper in 2015. On Wednesday, the 5-foot-9 shooting guard signed with Weber State University.
“I think that since freshman year this is what I’ve always dreamt of, wanting to go to a (NCAA Division I) college,” she said, “and now that it’s over and signed, I can just play my senior year and not be worried about anything.”
That same feeling carried over to the rest of the Panthers, with Winans signing to play soccer at Northern Arizona University while Jaden Alexander (Mt. Hood CC) and Maddie Dalke (Blue Mountain CC) committed to continue their pursuits in softball.
Also Wednesday, Cascade Christian senior Caroline McMahon made good on her pledge to NCAA Division II Northwest Nazarene University to play volleyball after leading the Challengers to two Class 3A titles and one runner-up showing.
McMahon was the 2017 3A state player of the year after setting a championship-match record with 42 kills against Santiam Christian. The 5-8 outside hitter averaged 5.1 kills per set and 9.8 digs per match this past season.
On Monday, Crater volleyball standouts Rane Jensen (Concordia), Aubrey Kievit (Oregon Tech) and Nehkyah Ellis (University of Mary) also plan to finalize their commitments after helping lead the Comets to their first-ever state trophy this fall by placing sixth at the 5A level.
Chamberlin carried the most impressive resume of the South Medford group after twice being named to the Class 6A all-state team as a key cog to the Panthers’ ability to remain among the top teams in the state under Tom Cole.
She scored 42 points as a sophomore against Arcata High of California to set the single-game scoring record at South Medford, and is joined by Kylie Towry, Ashley Bolston and Tago as Panther players who have scored at least 500 points in one season. Chamberlin accomplished that feat as a sophomore and, with 1,367 career points, sits fourth in South history behind Towry (1,825), Tago (1,646) and Bolston (1,407).
“Ula has always been somebody who can put the ball in the bucket,” said Panthers girls basketball coach Tom Cole. “She’s never had a problem scoring, and I think that allowed her to have a different identity during the recruiting trail. She’s had a history in three years of being a two-time all-state kid but also her point production is there. I think that’s what drew a lot of interest from schools.”
Chamberlin joins a Big Sky Conference landscape that includes former Panthers such as Bolston (Portland State) and Lauren Orndoff (Northern Arizona). Weber State brought in head coach Velaida Harris and her coaching staff last summer after finishing 21-11 overall.
“When I went to Weber State, it just felt like a family to me and that’s mainly what I was looking for,” said Chamberlin of the Ogden, Utah, atmosphere. “I love the environment, the group of girls were so nice and the coach really made me feel like I was at home.”
Harris was a familiar face in the recruiting process given her previous basketball history in Oregon with Chamberlin’s mother, Nicole, who had a Hall of Fame career at Southern Oregon University.
At Weber State, Chamberlin expects to fill a role as a shooting guard, and will join a very young roster — something she has experience with as one of only two upperclassmen on a freshman-dominated roster one year ago.
“Especially playing with the young team that I had last year,” said Chamberlin, “I think it’s going to be something I can get used to easily and fit in perfect with.”
For Winans, the recruiting process was a little more hands-on, and that made Wednesday even more special.
“I actually contacted (Northern Arizona) through most of my soccer journey and followed up on their team,” she said, “so I’m very blessed to get to go there now.”
“It’s kind of overwhelming with the whole recruiting process,” added the 5-9 Winans, “but finally I just get to breathe and enjoy it.”
Winans played a key role in helping lead the Panthers to the Southwest Conference title this past season as an all-conference midfielder, and her clutch goal-scoring ways have been a staple since joining South Medford as well as in her offseason play with the Rogue Valley Timbers.
“She comes to practice every day with a smile on her face and she straps on her boots and she goes to work,” said Kevin Primerano, executive director of the Timbers. “She doesn’t really say much, she just gets it done with her actions.”
South Medford softball coach Shane Ramsay praised Alexander and Dalke for their “unique gifts” as an outfielder and pitcher, respectively, during his part of the ceremony, and each has an eye already trained on the future after all-conference campaigns a year ago.
“For me it’s all about the steps I take to get to my big ending goal,” said Alexander, who aspires to get her master’s degree in psychology. “A small school was perfect for me, I didn’t have to stress about anything and it was a good stepping stone. At Mt. Hood, it was like I showed up and it was family and I loved that.”
“I think with my determination and my energy and bubbly characteristics and hard work,” she added, “I can’t tell you the future but hopefully I can make a positive impact while I’m there.”
Dalke aims to earn a master’s degree in teaching and become a special education teacher, and is equally excited about her ensuing adventure.
“I’m really looking forward to helping lead (Blue Mountain) and then hopefully going into a four-year to play softball afterwards.”