Elle Ruffridge reflects on Lady Bear career
SAN ANTONIO — Elle Ruffridge took a deep breath and cleared her throat. She was asked to give an opening statement before her postgame press conference.
Her eyes glistened. It had been within the last half hour that her team’s basketball season had come to an end.
She tried to speak before choking up again. She adjusted her mask before looking to the ceiling.
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“I’m very emotional right now because we didn’t play our best basketball,” she began. “We fought until the very end. I wish I had more time with my teammates, this coaching staff, being in this uniform. Reflecting on this season and what we did was incredible so we have nothing to hang our heads about.
“The loss is tough because basketball is done for us this season. Again, we have so much to be proud of. I just love this team. I wish I had more time.”
Missouri State fell 89-62 to No. 1-overall seed Stanford in the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Ruffridge, a senior guard, wiped away tears, laughed and even smiled throughout her postgame press conference. One that she said that will be her last.
“That was probably my last game as a Lady Bear,” Ruffridge said after a pause. “It’s hard to let that sink in. These four years of my life have truly meant the most to me. I’ve gone through a lot of adversity — lots of ups and downs. It’s truly been the best thing being a Lady Bear.”
Ruffridge’s career ends as one of the school’s all-time best outside shooters. In six career NCAA Tournament games, the 5-foot-3 guard and all-time leading scorer in Iowa high school history was 15-for-23 from beyond the arc.
“I think Elle just continues to defy the odds,” head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton said. “Some people automatically underestimate her when she gets on the court and her heart is just so big and her talent is just so big as she continues to make her mark here as a Lady Bear.”
Her career didn’t end without going out with a bang. In the fourth quarter, she went 5-for-5 from the field with four of the shots coming from deep.
Ruffridge will have the memories of getting hot from deep and seeing her teammates succeed. A pair of Sweet 16 trips and conference championships to her resume will be something written down for forever.
But the memories and relationships made with those around her will bring a smile to her face every time.
“The memories I cherish the most will be the ones that happened outside of basketball,” Ruffridge said. “They’re the tiny moments that happen that just mean a lot to me. It was a tight-knit group outside of basketball as well.
“So yeah, we may not be practicing or playing games anymore, but we’re still going to be with each other all the time and being best friends. Just any moment I get from them is truly special to me.”
Ruffridge, an elementary education major, will move on to the next chapter in her life. She said the future of the Lady Bears is in good hands with the current coaching staff and those coming up in the program.
The many, many wins and successes on the court will be something she can always remember. The relationships she built with those around her will be something she holds closest to her heart.
“We’re just great people,” Ruffridge said. “It goes beyond basketball, but we have more to do in the outside world. I think that’s really special and it’s just bigger than basketball. I think that’s important.”
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at [email protected] or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. You can subscribe to his free “Bears Beat” newsletter on News-Leader.com. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.