Learning to adjust
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Elle Ruffridge arrived at Missouri State University knowing she would have to prove herself all over again.
The 5-foot-3 freshman point guard departed from Pocahontas Area as one of the most decorated players to ever compete in Iowa, winning back-to-back state titles and 100 games.
She became the state’s career leader in points, assists and made 3-pointers, along with setting several other high-water marks.
The move to college and competing at the NCAA Div. I level, though, has been one that forced Ruffridge to endure struggles for the first time in a long time on the court.
“In all honesty, I have been frustrated with how I have been playing,” she said. “I haven’t been shooting the ball well in games and there are some other things I could be doing better at. I’ve been facing some adversity and had some struggles the first few months, but that’s part of life.”
Ruffridge is averaging just under four points per game with 23 total rebounds, 17 assists and four steals for the Lady Bears, who are 4-7 on the season.
“Everything about the game is enhanced at a higher and challenging level,” Ruffridge said. “The game is faster, girls are taller and stronger; there are higher expectations and every little detail matters.
“The pace of the game is something that took some getting used to. But after each game, I feel more and more comfortable with where I am at
Ruffridge scored a career-high eight points recently vs. Northwestern, setting a high mark of five assists in a game vs. Wichita State.
“The biggest adjustment for me has been coming off the bench and playing the two (shooting guard) position rather than point guard,” she said. “Even though my role has changed tremendously, I am always going to do my best and contribute to my team as much as possible.
“Once I do get into the game, it is important I make each moment count and enjoy it because I am living my dream.”
Missouri State took a trip to the Bahamas to compete in the Junkanoo Jam in November, taking on two teams. They have also made trips to Ohio, Arkansas and Alabama over the opening two months of the season.
“Traveling has totally put a new meaning into my life,” Ruffridge said. “It gets very exhausting and results in many long days. Some days consist of jumping from airport to airport and others consist of spending half a day on a bus.
“It takes a lot of mental preparation because after we’re done traveling, we usually have practice as soon as we get to our destination.”
The featured game in the Bahamas for the Lady Bears was a date with perennial national title contender Baylor. Missouri State fell, 100-58, as Ruffridge played 18 minutes, scoring three points with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Getting the opportunity to play against Baylor was unreal. It’s just crazy to think as a kid, I watched Kim Mulkey and all her great teams playing on TV on a big stage and I was actually standing on the same court as her,” Ruffridge said. “That game was certainly a ‘big’ game. I have never played against a team with that many tall girls. There were times where I caught myself laughing because every girl I guarded, I had to lift my head to look up at her.
“It was an incredible experience that I’ll remember for a long time.”
Despite suffering losses to Baylor and Penn, Ruffridge enjoyed the trip and was able to see the world from another view.
“Playing in the Bahamas was such an amazing opportunity and experience for me,” she said. “That was the first time I left the country and swam in the ocean, so there were a couple things I got to cross off my bucket list. It also made me realize how my life differs from the people who live in Bimini. They are limited to so many resources and technology, but that doesn’t matter to them.
“It opened my eyes to a greater extend that life is good.”
Baylor is currently ranked sixth in the nation. Missouri State also faced off against Missouri, who checks in at No. 16. They have also met the likes of Alabama, Wichita State, Oral Roberts and Ball State this year.
“We had an extremely challenging non-conference schedule that we just didn’t handle well,” Ruffridge said. “Every loss or mistake is just something we have to learn from. All of these games have been preparing us for what really matters and that is Missouri Valley Conference play.”
Ruffridge, who was constantly on the go at Pocahontas Area, has experienced nothing but the same with Missouri State.
“It has been tough balancing everything because it all raises to a higher level and I feel like I don’t have a lot of time to waste,” she said. “But the way I look at it is I have been doing this since my freshman year of high school. I stayed involved with sports, music, speech and other clubs all keeping me extremely busy, so this is all nothing new to me.
“It just involves more work, organization and better time management. With basketball in full swing, there really is not that much time to do a whole lot except school work and play basketball.”
Missouri state begins league play on Friday when they host Indiana State. The game will stream on ESPN3 beginning at 6 p.m.
RUFFRIDGE AT A GLANCE
Points 8 (vs. Northwestern)
Rebounds 6 (vs. Baylor)
Assists 5 (vs. Wichita State)
3-pointers made 10
Games played 11