By Ray Hamill — It hasn’t taken Makaila Napoleon long to settle in at Oregon Tech, and the coaches expect much of the same from Del Norte’s Jadence Clifton.
Napoleon, a former Eureka High basketball standout who is in her second year with the Owls, has been a very pleasant surprise with how quickly she has adapted to the NAIA level.
“Theres always a transition period (in college), especially for high school kids transitioning to four-year universities,”Oregon Tech head coach Scott Meredith said. “It takes a while, but for Makaila it didn’t take her long.”
Napoleon, whose father Clifford also played at Oregon Tech, earned a starting place midway through her freshman year and quickly established herself as a key part of the rotation.
Most notably, however, she earned the coaches’ and her teammates’ respect with what she has been able to do late in games.
“By the end of (last) year, she was one of our go-to players,” said Meredith, an Arcata High graduate who coached in Humboldt County for several years before taking over at Oregon Tech 12 years ago. “At the end of close games we look at Makaila to get the tough baskets for us.”
Voted the team’s most improved player by her teammates last season, Napoleon appeared in 30 games, averaging 8.1 points and 3.8 boards in 13.5 minutes.
She scored a season-high 21 points against Pacific Union College as the perennially tough Owls finished up the season with a record of 19-12.
The team is still playing the waiting game in regard to this season, with the Cascade Collegiate Conference tentatively scheduled to begin play in late January but awaiting the go-ahead from Oregon state health officials.
Whether they get to play or not, the 2019 Eureka High graduate will receive an extra year of eligibility.
Another local standout, Del Norte’s Clifton, will join Napoleon in Klamath Falls next fall after the Warriors senior recently accepted a full athletic scholarship to play there.
Early last season the Warriors were playing Henley High in Klamath Falls, when Clifton caught the attention of former Oregon Tech assistant coach Tom Loney, whose daughter was playing for Henley.
“Immediately after the game, he contacted me and said there’s a kid on Del Norte you need to see,” Merdith said.
And it didn’t take long for the Owls head coach to be impressed.
“Her offensive game just jumped off the screen at me,” Meredith said. “And her ability to create a shot for herself when she’s well defended, even double teamed.
“She’s a very creative scorer. What she can do one-on-one you don’t often see from a high school kid.”
The Del Norte senior is a part of a stellar 2021 recruiting class for the Owls, with five standout freshmen joining the program.
And Meredith, who played and coached at Arcata High, believes Clifton is an ideal choice for the Owls on and off the court.
“She’s going to have the opportunity to come in and compete for serious minutes,” he said. “We think she’s going to be a really nice fit for us, and not only basketball wise. She’s just a really good fit for what we’re looking to recruit at Oregon Tech.”
Meredith has enjoyed plenty of success at Oregon Tech, turning the Owls into a perennial contender in conference play and making five trips to the NAIA National Tournament in the last seven seasons.
“It’s been a good run everywhere I’ve been,” said Meredith, who got his coaching start at Sunny Brae Middle School while still a junior in high school. “And I still really enjoy it. There’s still an awful lot to learn and it keeps me going.”
Meredith, a Humboldt State graduate, also enjoyed coaching spells at Ferndale Elementary School, Arcata High, Fortuna High, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa JC, College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State.
And his close contacts within the local community have led to multiple former H-DNL players going to play at Oregon Tech, including Arcata’s Rebekah Matteri and Eureka’s Tess Armstrong, each of whom played four years with the Owls and were named team captains.
Meredith also coached Napoleon’s mother Stephanie at Arcata High.