Abrupt end to successful year crushing, but understandable
POCAHONTAS — For Elle Ruffridge, the month of March has been marked by countless memories to last a lifetime.
The latest, though, was one she never expected to experience.
Ruffridge, a junior on the 19th-ranked Missouri State women’s basketball team, saw her season come to an end away from the court when the women’s NCAA Tournament was cancelled.
Like many around the country, the former Pocahontas Area standout and her teammates were shocked and saddened by the decision.
“The initial reaction from everyone was that this is crazy, this is not happening. There is no way our conference tournament, let alone the NCAA Tournament, will be canceled,” Ruffridge reflected after returning home. “This is March Madness we are talking about. Is it really that serious for our season to be over? Everyone was in disbelief and heartbroken.
“The ones that I feel for the most are the seniors. Playing a sport they have dedicated so much time and commitment to, and at the end, this happens.”
As painful as the decision was to hear, Ruffridge admits she eventually came to an understanding.
“I understand why things have been canceled but it wasn’t easy to accept at first of course,” she said. “As an athlete, it is crushing knowing that this is the ending to a season that consisted of months of preparation and hard work.
“But again, at the end of the day, basketball is only game. It means a lot to me, but this situation is much bigger than basketball. This is life and the well-being of people we are talking about.”
A three-year letterwinner for the Bears, Ruffridge was voted the most improved player in 2019 after helping the team reach the Sweet 16 last season. She scored a high of 20 points in November, finishing the season with 191 points, 51 rebounds, 31 assists and 13 steals.
Missouri State went 26-4 overall and won the Missouri Valley Conference after a 16-2 season. They were 15-0 at home, and ranked nationally over the final 17 weeks of the year.
“This will definitely be a season to remember,” Ruffridge said. “Our team was having one of the best seasons in Lady Bear history.
“At the beginning of the year, our team set a lot of goals. We achieved some of those goals but we still had so many more we were shooting for. What is really sad about all this is that our team had a lot of basketball yet to be played. There’s just something about not knowing how it really would have ended. The true ending of our season — like many others around the country — is unwritten. We will never really know.”
For her career with Missouri State, Ruffridge has played in 98 games, scoring 423 points with 167 rebounds, 88 assists, 40 steals and 90 made 3-pointers.
The team is scheduled to lose just two seniors from the current roster.
“Looking ahead, I am really excited for what is to come,” Ruffridge said. “Right now, everyone on the team is home enjoying time with family but I know once it is time to head back to Springfield, we will be ready to get after it.
“Next year could potentially be my final year of playing basketball, which is crazy to even think about because I have been playing since I was in kindergarten. The final chapter for me … is quickly approaching, and with the way this season ended, it really puts things into a clearer perspective that anything in life can be taken from you in a blink of an eye.
“I am just grateful that I have at least one more year to play the sport I love and one more chance to write a story with my teammates that hopefully has an epic ending.”
Ruffridge is Iowa’s career scoring leader and led Pocahontas Area to back-to-back state titles, winning Gatorade Player of the Year both seasons and Iowa Miss Basketball in 2017.
Her brother, Shea, recently helped Grand View University capture another NAIA wrestling title, while another brother, Tyce, is a sophomore at Pocahontas Area.