As millions of hoops enthusiasts tuned in last month for the NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball championships — appropriately named March Madness — few viewers would have known that one of the prominent participants has very close ties to the Nicola Valley.

Suiting up for the Oregon State Beavers in their run to the women’s Final Four in Indianapolis was six-foot six-inch senior Ruth Hamblin from Houston, B.C.

Hamblin is the grand-daughter of long-time Merritt resident Mike Capp and his former wife, Gloria. Hamblin’s mother, Shirley, is one of five Capp children (along with Cindy,  Mike Jr., Pat and Justin) that were born and raised on the family ranch at Spius Creek, 20 km west of of the city off Hwy. 8.

After graduating from Merritt Secondary School and earning a degree in Forestry, Shirley moved up north to work in the Bulkley Valley region. It’s there that she met and married Lance Hamblin, and where their daughter, Ruth, was born.

Growing up in relative isolation on a cattle ranch outside Houston, B.C., the young Hamblin’s days were kept busy with chores and the minding of animals. She didn’t even pick up a basketball until she was in the ninth grade at tiny Houston Christian Secondary. Once she found her way onto a court, however, she was hooked.

Despite the remoteness of her location and the diminutive size of her school, Hamblin led tiny Houston Christian to two B.C. single A girls’ titles during her four seasons of prep basketball. Her Grade 12 graduating class in 2012 had all of 10 students.

Hamblin’s physical attributes, basketball proficiency, intellect and leadership caught the attention of more than a few college recruiters on both sides of the border. Ultimately, she chose Oregon State, a public institution of some 30,000 students located in Corvallis, Ore.

The Beavers play in the highly-competitive Pac-12 athletic conference against powerhouse teams such as UCLA, USC, Stanford and Arizona.

Hamblin quickly proved herself to be a gifted student — both on and off the basketball court. She earned the nickname The Canadian Hammer because of her defensive prowess and shot-blocking skills on the hardwood, while maintaining a 3.84 GPA in the classroom studying mechanical engineering.

In her school bio, Hamblin credited her rural childhood and early morning chores for her willpower, dedication and perseverance.

“She has all of the grit and determination,” Hamblin’s dad is quoted as saying. “Once she makes up her mind, get out of her way.”

In her freshman year at OSU, Hamblin played in 28 games, averaging 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds. She converted an impressive 50 per cent of her shots from the floor (tops on the team), and recorded 32 blocks on the season (third-best in Oregon State freshman history).

In Hamblin’s sophomore season, the accolades and awards began to pile up. She was named to numerous all-conference teams, and set a Pac-12 single-season record with 141 blocked shots. She also pulled down 299 rebounds over the course of 35 games, the fourth-most in OSU history. Hamblin’s averages rose to 9.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.03 blocks per game.

The honours kept coming in 2014-15, as Hamblin was named a third-team All-American, and Pac-12 Media Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Her scoring proficiency climbed to 12.9 points per game, and her career total of 295 blocked shots became the most in her school’s history. Along with guard Jamie Weisner, Hamblin led the Beavers to their first-ever Pac-12 title. In the conference championship game against UCLA, the Houston, B.C. native netted 23 points and pulled down a career-high 20 rebounds.

While all the numbers have yet to be crunched, and the final awards handed out, Hamblin has saved her best for the fourth and final season of her distinguished NCAA basketball career. She helped lead the Beavers to a 32-4 record and a run all the way to the Final Four. En route, Oregon State upset Baylor 60-57 in a thrilling buzzer-beater at the West Regionals on March 28.

At the Final Four showdown in Indianapolis, Hamblin and her OSU team faced number-one-ranked University of Connecticut (36-0) in one of two semi-finals. Going in, the Huskies had won 10 national titles in their history, and made the Final Four the last nine seasons in a row.

Despite a valiant effort by Hamblin and her teammates, the Beavers were humbled by the vaunted Huskies 80-51. It was UConn’s 74th consecutive victory spanning three seasons. Two days later, the Huskies disposed of Syracuse in similar fashion, 82-51, to win their fourth NCAA title in as many years.

While Hamblin’s college basketball career may be over, she has much to look forward to. She is expected to be drafted by the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and she is very much on the radar for the Canadian women’s national team, if not for the Rio Olympics, then most certainly in four year’s time.

“She is right in there, part of the mix in terms of our top 15 or 16,” national team coach Lisa Thomaidis told sports writer Howard Tsumura for his feature story on Hamblin in the April 3 edition of the Province newspaper. “Her time is coming.”

Others might say that Ruth Hamblin’s time has already arrived.

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Anyone wishing to learn much more about Ruth Hamblin’s incredible journey from a small-town B.C. girl to an international star on the basketball court can visit and read her inspiring story.

To the residents of her hometown, Hamblin said, “Thank you for following my journey these past four years. Thank you all for the prayers and the uplifting words of encouragement. Thanks for loving me before my name was in the headlines and I was just a farm kid who loved physics and horses. You have no idea how proud I am to say I’m from Houston, B.C. and represent a community of people who know what family really means and what hard work looks like.”