Jessica Richter, Boyd and Halberg play major roles, as the California school bags its first national title
JACKSON, Tenn. - Three Oregon City High School graduates have helped put California's Vanguard University on the map in NAIA Division I women's basketball.
Former Oregon City High School standouts Jessica Richter, Sarah Boyd and Paige Halberg started for Vanguard last week, when the Lions defeated Tennessee's Trevecca Nazarene University 72-59 in the championship game of the NAIA Division I National Championship Women's Basketball Tournament.
Vanguard, which led the entire game, is the first women's basketball team west of the Rockies to claim a NAIA Division I title.
Former Oregon City High coach Brad Smith made the trip to Tennessee to take in the game.
'It made me so proud,' said Smith. 'When they announced the starting lineup, they announced that three of the players were from Oregon City. And when they won it, it was so exciting! I was so excited for Jess, Sarah and Paige, that they could be part of a national championship team.'
'It was surreal,' Richter said, in describing how she felt following the championship game. 'It was pretty incredible, because talent-wise, we expected to win the last two years, and this year we were underdogs. This was pretty-much a whole new team.'
Richter, a 2004 graduate of Oregon City, played a major role in Vanguard's success.
The 5-10 senior guard was named the tournament's most valuable player, as she helped lead the way in NAIA Tournament wins over Cumberlands (Kentucky) 75-62, Lambuth (Tenn.) 70-67, Carroll (Montana) 71-56 and tournament host Union (Tenn.) 74-72.
'Jessica's one of a few players in American who can change the game on offense and on defense in an instant,' said Vanguard coach Russ Davis. 'There's a reason she was last year's national player of the year and runner-up to the player of the year this year. She does so many things at both ends of the floor. She was our leader in scoring, as well as in steals….
'Jessica leads by example. Her competitiveness and desire and work ethic are second to none.'
Richter said there were flashbacks to her senior year at Oregon City High School, when she and teammate Sarah Boyd played together on an Oregon City team that defeated Lakeridge for a state high school championship. Paige Halberg, who later graduated from Oregon City, was on that Lakeridge team.
'All season, Sarah and I have been talking about playing together and winning [state]at Oregon City when I was a senior and she was a freshman,' said Richter. 'About how it was the same situation, and we had to win again…..
'When we were cutting down the net after winning [the national championship], I remembered what it was like when we cut down the net after winning for Oregon City. I've got some great memories, and I'm happy that I got to share them with Sarah and Paige again at Vanguard.'
Richter said the support of Smith throughout her high school career meant a lot to her.
'I can't say enough about Brad Smith,' she said. He's an amazing guy. He taught me how to win and how to be a champion. He definitely molded me. He prepared me to play at a high level and be successful.'
'Brad's followed me all through my career and attended at least a couple of games every year,' she said. 'Since he was retired from teaching, he was able to make every game [at this year's NAIA championship tournament], and it meant a lot....
'I knew he was there. He was sitting directly behind one of the baskets and I'd see him every time I shot a free throw.'
Richter had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals in the title game.
Richter scored in double figures in every game of this year's national tournament, averaging 16.4 points. She scored 24 points - on 9-of-15 shooting, with four 3-pointers - in the semifinal win over Union.
All three Oregon City girls made major contributions in the win over Cumberlands. Richter and Boyd scored 14 and 12 points respectively. Halberg came through with five assists and three steals; Richter had eight rebounds; Boyd had three assists.
Richter transferred to Vanguard after a year at Syracuse University, where she averaged 12 points and five rebounds.
In three seasons at Vanguard, Richter played in 99 games, averaging 20.3 points on .486 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.6 assists.
A psychology major, Richter also earned NAIA, WBCA and Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors, and she received GSAC All-Academic and NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors. She sports a 3.78 cumulative GPA.
A two-time GSAC Player of the year, Richter this year was third in the conference in scoring (19.1 ppg), second in steals (2.9), seventh in rebounding (7.6) and 10th in shooting percentage (.487).
A 5-4 freshman point guard, Boyd this season averaged 9.2 points, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals.
A 5-9 freshman guard, Halberg this season averaged 2.3 points and 2 assists.
'I'm really proud of Sarah and Paige,' said Davis. 'Sarah's started all season and she's made a great impact. She wasn't used to scoring in high school, but she's improved so that she's averaging around 10 points a game. She's had a couple of games where she's hit 20. Her parents can't believe it. They ask what I've done to get her to shoot….
'To step in and start at point guard for a team that's been ranked No. 1 in the nation for two years says a lot about her tenacity and determination. She's done a tremendous job….
'The stats don't show it, but Paige has been invaluable. She's been asked to play three different positions this year, and she's played them all really well.
'She's a great defensive player and a great leader. She leads verbally as well as by example. Her understanding of the game is just incredible.'
The Vanguard Lions finished the year with an overall record of 29-5, advancing to the NAIA Tournament after finishing second in the GSAC.
Richter says she is uncertain as to what she'll do with her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. She says she is interested in playing basketball at the professional level.
'I want to keep playing,' she said. 'And I'd love to coach someday, probably at the college level, or for a good high school program.'
As for Vanguard, Davis said, 'It's hard to replace a Jessica Richter. You just don't do that overnight. But we've got nine returning players and we've already signed some pretty good recruits. We'll be okay. We have a saying at Vanguard: 'We don't rebuild. We reload.''