Addition of Kristen Ruchti pays off for UW-Whitewater
WHITEWATER--It was a new year and there were new nerves.
UW-Whitewater women’s basketball coach Keri Carollo had never added a player at midseason before and didn’t know how it would sit with her senior-laden team.
Brodhead native Kristen Ruchti hadn’t played collegiate basketball in a couple of years and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
What could have been an awkward situation quickly proved to be a season-changing moment. And now Ruchti and the Warhawks embark on what could be a program-defining weekend, as they attempt to win their first national championship. They face Whitman in a national semifinal at Stevens Point on Friday night.
“Are they going to accept her? Is she going to fit in? How’s this going to work? There were a lot of uneasy feelings about that, but we really worked together,” Carollo said. “I talked to our seniors first and wanted to make sure they were onboard before we did anything.
“As the season went along, she just fit. It was just the weirdest thing. It’s like she’s been playing with us for four years.”
Ruchti wandered a long and winding path just to be playing at Whitewater at all.
A highly touted volleyball player at Brodhead, the 2009 graduate elected to play basketball collegiately at Division II UW-Parkside. After two seasons, she was over it.
“It’s all year. You don’t go home. I had a couple days for Christmas and 12 hours for Thanksgiving,” Ruchti said. “But I don’t regret it at all. Choosing to play at Parkside was a good decision for me at the time. It just got to be too much.”
Ruchti stepped away from basketball and from Parkside. But she couldn’t stay away from sports and decided to attend Whitewater and play volleyball beginning in 2012.
Carollo began putting a bug in Ruchti’s ear, encouraging her to think about getting back on the basketball court. As the calendar turned to 2014, the option finally felt right.
“One semester, coming in, and I don’t want to come in and step on anybody’s toes who is going to be playing,” Ruchti said, describing her thought process. “I talked to my mom a lot about everything. I missed it, but I didn’t know. Finally, they got back from Vegas, I got back from a trip, and I was like, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
The Warhawks were coming off an appearance in the Division III national title game a year ago and had lost just three times entering the second half of the season.
But that didn’t mean they weren’t open to help.
“I was excited because I knew she played previously at a Division II school,” Whitewater senior guard Kaitlyn Thill said. “I knew she would be a good addition, and she definitely was. She fit in right away and was outgoing with us and was one of us immediately.”
Well, maybe not immediately.
“In practice, when I was so nervous, we did the first drill and I missed a wide-open layup,” Ruchti remembers.
But in her first appearance in a Warhawks uniform, a Jan. 15 game against UW-Platteville, Ruchti had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
She’s played a key role ever since. In 16 games, Ruchti is averaging 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in 23 minutes.
“She definitely changed things for us offensively,” Carollo said. “We were so much more guard-oriented early in the year. Adding her to the mix, we’re more balanced. We have a true back-to-the-basket type of post.”
In four NCAA tournament victories leading up to this weekend’s Final Four, the 6-foot-2 senior center is averaging more than 18 points and 8 rebounds.
Eleven weeks after the nervous decision, there’s no second-guessing Ruchti’s addition in Whitewater.