Speer carries the load for SOU

Jacki Speer has a problem.

It's not rebounding, of course, because the Southern Oregon University senior's 15.2-per-game clip leads the nation in that category. Averaging 21.5 points an outing, scoring isn't really an issue either, so what's the big deal?

"Fourteen games left? That's it?," she asks. "Wow. I had no idea."

Yes, not including postseason activities, her regular season career has come down to 14 games, which has to be the only number of Speer's that puts smiles on the faces of opposing Cascade Conference coaches.

"I had so much I wanted to get done this year," she says. "I just can't believe it's my senior year."

Breaking the school's career rebounding record against Warner Pacific a few weeks ago wasn't a bad start. And if Speer averages 22 points a game for the rest of the season, she'll have the career scoring record too. Throw in a couple playoff games and a little over 19 a game will do.

But in her eyes, there are bigger hurdles to jump at the moment.

The Raiders are 12-3, but 1-3 in conference play going into this week's games against Northwest Christian and Corban. For the first time since she arrived on campus, her team has dropped three straight league contests.

More than ever, the Raiders need Speer to answer the call.

"I've never felt this much responsibility in my life," she says. "We're so young, and you could tell the first few games of conference that a lot of the new girls on the team didn't know what we were fighting for. You can't just walk on the floor and win."

No ifs, ands or buts about it though, she says with a laugh, the Raiders will make their third consecutive national tournament appearance this year. "There's no other option; we have to go back."

The Raiders were ranked No. 9 in the country going into their most recent setbacks at Eastern Oregon and College of Idaho, but the already youthful group — which lost all-conference senior guard Whitney Scott to injury before the season — may not have been ready for that kind of target on its collective back.

No problem; Speer has plenty of experience rebounding.

"I love a challenge, too," she says.

In fact, that's why she's in Ashland.

Before Speer started high school, she had her heart set on going to Tennessee and becoming a horse trainer. Then the varsity coach came to her the summer before her freshman year, saying that the team needed some height.

Speer's 6-foot-2 frame happened to fit the bill. A few months later she was starting for the first of four years and never looked back.

She says she didn't even like basketball before that, but SOU coach Lynn Kennedy liked her the moment he saw her play.

"She was getting some Division-1 looks (from other coaches), but I think most of them were scared off by some of her injuries," Kennedy says, noting the first time he saw her play she was wearing a face-mask during summer league to protect a broken nose. "So we really lucked out."

She's come a long way since then, the numbers steadily climbing each year since her arrival. Her avearages of 9.3 points and 10 rebounds while earning CCC Freshman of the Year honors look awfully modest now.

More importantly, since Speer came to SOU the team has amassed a record of 85-26.

"When I look back on Jacki, I'm not going to remember all of her achievements on the floor as much as I'm going to remember the workouts we did in the offseason every year," Kennedy says. "Her work ethic is one of the best I've ever seen. Now she's developed an outside game, improved her post moves, gotten stronger and quicker"¦

"She's done everything and more that I could have ever asked."

Come to think of it, though, her 28-rebound effort against Holy Names earlier this season might stand out too.

"Oh man, I'll never forget that," Kennedy adds. "She was just swiping everything out of the air. I've never seen anything like it."

With Scott out, not only has Speer had to step up her scoring, which is up five points a night from last year to lead the conference, but also her leadership. Typically the humble and quiet type, this year's Raider squad has heard their captain pick up the slack vocally.

"She has always led by example in the past, you know, just showing people how to conduct their business on the court, in the weight room and out-working everyone else at every practice," Kennedy said. "Now the girls have kind of had to adjust to her speaking up more, but it's something they need and are getting more comfortable with."

Either way, the numbers continue to speak volumes. At 72.7 percent, she's attempted more than twice as many free throws as any other leaders in percentage in the CCC, and her 2.33-blocks a game leads the loop. And those are mere sidebars.

"The numbers and the records are nice, but those are for my parents," she says. "They're the stat junkies."

She's just the girl who enjoys a nice challenge.

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