HERMISTON — As a little girl, soccer was Jayden Ray’s first love.

As time went on, basketball stole her heart, and now has landed her an opportunity to play at the college level.

The Hermiston High School senior signed a letter of intent on Wednesday, Feb. 10, with Pacific University in Forest Grove.

“They got in touch with me after watching me play this summer,” Ray said of the Boxers’ coaching staff. “They called after one of the tournaments. They said they wanted me to visit. I went, and they offered me right then. I told them I wanted to wait. We talked about three weeks later. I’m grateful I got found by a great school.”

As a Division III school, Pacific is not able to offer athletic scholarships, but Ray qualified for a $24,000 academic scholarship each year for four years.

She plans on majoring in business and accounting.

“I started taking accounting my sophomore year and it really interests me,” Ray said.

The 5-foot-7 Ray had an impressive resumé to offer schools, a list that also included nearby Walla Walla Community College.

She was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Mid-Columbia Conference. She was key in helping the Bulldogs hold conference opponents to an average of 49 points a game, while averaging seven points a game on offense.

“Jayden is one of those kids who deserves it all,” Hermiston coach Maloree Moss said. “She will get a quality education and play in a high-level conference. She had the accolades to back up her play. If we had a normal year, she would have 12 letters between basketball, soccer and track. She still might. Most programs want athletes like that.”

The Bulldogs finished fourth in the MCC standings last season with a 10-6 record, and were the No. 2 team to the 3A regional tournament.

With her track season kicked to the curb by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ray put her efforts back into basketball, playing with Portland-based Oregon Elite this past summer.

It was through the Oregon Elite program that Ray was discovered by Pacific.

“One of the main reasons I played with Oregon Elite was to get those contacts with coaches,” Ray said. “I had heard of Pacific, and one of my AAU coaches played there.”

Moss said Oregon Elite is a beneficial program for players.

“They go to all the right tournaments and help the kids make connections,” Moss said. “They have the networking to do that.”

Hermiston has played two full seasons of basketball in the MCC, which Ray said helped her hone her game.

“The MCC has changed the way the program works, and has helped me improve mentally and physically,” Ray said. “There are legit athletes that come out of Washington, and to play against them has made me a better player. I’m glad I got to play against them.”

Moss and Ray are hoping for one more go-round together on the court. Winter sports have been moved to the spring, and the Bulldogs are hoping to get in a few games.

“The season is looking like it might happen,” Moss said. “I’m so thankful to have one last year with these seniors. They work so hard in school, and it rolls over onto the court. They deserve to have another season.”

Ray said she has hope they will get to play.

“Losing the season would be like a stab in the chest,” she said. “To play even one more game sounds good to me.”

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