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The Gladiators' three-sport star turned down a track scholarship at Western State Colorado University to sign with the RiverHawks

PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Gladstone's Grace Campbell (center) had classmates (left to right) Morgn Shearer, Shaye Pinner, Zoe Haynes, and Andrew Prom with her Thursday as she signed a letter of intent to play women's basketball at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.Gladstone High School's Grace Campbell excelled in everything she has ever done for the Gladiators, whether it was soccer, basketball, or track track and field.

She considered pursuing more than one sport in college, but when the time came to make a decision, she followed her heart and accepted a scholarship offer from Umpqua Community College in Roseburg to play women's basketball.

Campbell made her decision official Thursday when she signed a letter of intent in front of family, friends, and coaches, including RiverHawks coach Dave Stricklin.

"This means everything to me, especially after the last basketball season ended, it hit me hard," Campbell said. "Soccer was like, 'Okay, cool, we ended the season,' and it's weird I'm not going to have daily doubles next year. But when the basketball season ended, I broke down and felt empty.

"Now, knowing I'm going to be able to play basketball again, it kind of fills that hole I had after we lost our last game to Valley Catholic."

Stricklin expects Campbell to make an immediate impact and play a significant role on a program that had eight sophomores on a team that reached the championship final of the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament and finished the season with a 31-2 record.

"Not only is Grace going to fill a big void in terms of production, but the third that I like about here is what she brings from a maturity and leadership standpoint," Strickland said. "Because we're going to be so young, we need somebody who plays and acts a little bit older than what she really is.

"Where normally we would have five or six sophomores to help lead the freshmen, we're not going to have that. So, for Grace, the combination of not just her skill and talent and work ethic and production, but also her personality and leadership skills are going to play a huge part in our success next year."

As a soccer player, Campbell was a two-time Tri-Valley Conference first-team selection and was named the league's Player of the Year last fall after leading the Gladiators to a 10-4-1 record and a berth in the 4A state playoffs.

Campbell said she has always looked at soccer as her "stay-in-shape sport and the sport I played just to do something in the fall," not something she ever seriously considered pursuing at the next level.

She was more interested in playing basketball or running track and field in college -- or possibly compete in both.

Campbell, the reigning OSAA Class 4A girls' long jump state champion, said there were some NCAA Division III schools including Linfield in McMinnville and Whitworth in Spokane where she perhaps could go and do both.

But she said her decision came down to two scholarship offers -- one to Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, to compete in NCAA Division II track, the other to Umpqua to play basketball.

"I decided that track would probably be too hard on my body with the recent injuries that I've had," Campbell said. "And Umpqua gave me a good scholarship deal, so I'm hoping to get through college less in debt than some people.

"Coach Stricklin is really good at sending players on to four-year universities and finding better options than I have now coming out of high school. So I'm excited to see how I'll improve as a player under his coaching, too."

Of the eight sophomores on Umpqua's roster this past season, six received scholarship offers to continue playing at four-year schools.

"We want to win as much as anybody, but the primary goal is to help the players improve and get to the point where they can keep playing if they want to," Stricklin said.

Looking back over her high school athletic career, Campbell said she drew inspiration from Clark Webster, the former junior varsity girls' basketball coach.

Campbell had played about four quarters of JV basketball as a freshman when Webster told then-head coach Pat Scott that Campbell should be playing with the varsity team.

"Clark always pushed me," she said. "He always knew that I could achieve more than what I was doing and he always believed in me.

"I knew that I was a good athlete, but hearing that I could go and play with the big girls … that was something different."

Campbell had a bad experience playing club basketball that briefly turned her off to the idea of trying to play the game at the next level.

Then Glenn Hopkins took over the Gladstone program before the start of Campbell's senior season, and he brought in Drew Walters as his lead assistant.

"Drew helped me a lot," Campbell said. "He was one of the youngest coaches I've had ever, we bonded immediately, and he opened up my eyes again to wanting to play basketball.

"I'd shut down the whole idea of playing basketball in college. I was just going to focus on track because I was good at it and, honestly, I had the passion for it.

"And then Drew started to hammer on me and hammer on me and I was like, 'You know what? You're right, I do love basketball. That's my passion.'"

Campbell plans to study environmental science at Umpqua but is undecided on a possible career path.

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