Kiara Russell and Jamie Ruden have been struck with the injury bug in their final season. Regardless, they’ve continued to persevere through the tough battles. Coach Charli Turner Thorne knows that the pair has had setbacks come up, but they continue to get back up and help the team in any way possible.
“Even this season, we have been pretty good with them, obviously we just try to be smart,” Turner Thorne said. “Who knows how good Jamie Ruden and Kiara Russell could have been if they could have been fully healthy and practiced. They do a lot of what they do with very minimal practice because we try and keep them healthy.
“...It’s always how you finish, and as a basketball team we talk about finishing strong. I’m excited for these seniors to finish strong.”
Injuries haven't stopped Russell or Ruden from being out on the floor with their teammates. In some cases, they have to cheer from the bench in warmups all game, and other times it’s the impact they have on the court that leads them to victory.
“I feel like nothing can knock me down,” Russell said. “I feel like every time I put on this jersey now, I know it’s the end of the road. I got to fight for my sisters. It’s just a very bittersweet moment for me. I know after these next couple games that it will be end of conference play and then we have the tournament coming up. It’s kind of a weird feeling.”
Russell hasn't been knocked down for long during her career, as her impact on the floor has been immense for the Sun Devils. Her 4.3 rebounds per game this season, puts her fourth on the team while missing five games.
As a four-year player and frequent starter, Russell has seen her game improve every year.
“Definitely my pace,” Russell said. “I was always fast but I didn’t know how to control it. That’s probably one of the biggest aspects I wanted to control in my game, was how fast I was playing. Using misdirection’s on my dribble.”
Russell has made it a point to never be too comfortable with her game as Turner Thorne challenges her and her teammates. It’s something that she’s taken pride in over her years.
“There is always room for growth,” Russell said. “I try to do that every day in practice and maybe even on our off days to and come in and get a few shots in. It takes a couple of hours, lift a few more weights but you always want to separate yourself from where you are at.”
Ruden has gone down a similar path in terms of health, and for her it’s all about keeping a positive perspective.
“We have experienced injuries throughout our career,” Ruden said. “What we have learned is to just keep the perspective, even when we are injured and off the court you can still make a huge impact on the team just in terms of leadership.”
This year in particular, Ruden has missed nine games. She she has learned to take on more of a leadership role on and off the court. Ruden and Russell have had each other’s backs through thick and thin as well.
“Jamie’s always that person to get us through anything,” Russell said. “Her kindhearted spirit literally lifts up anybody that is down. Jamie is a person I can always go to when I’m hurt or I’m feeling down. That’s why she is going to be a long-time sister of mine and I’m happy that we got to build a relationship at ASU.”
The two of them, along with fellow seniors Reili Richardson and Robbi Ryan, have all built a strong relationship the past four years. The sisterhood they have isn't just from the Sun Devil culture, but also being there in life away from the court.
When the two of them are on the floor playing with the rest of the senior group, the Sun Devils are a dominant team. They agreed that the best games at ASU happened with them on the floor and as seniors, just like their two top-five victories against Oregon and Oregon State.
Aside from those memories, though, what’s their next step?
“I would like to play overseas and then get into coaching,” Russell said. “I haven’t really thought that far, but those are the two priorities I want to get too.”
Ruden on the other hand, is hanging up her sneakers and letting her passion for her faith take her to new heights.
“I’m actually really passionate about my faith and i’m looking to go into ministry with Athletes in Action,” Ruden said. “I’m really excited to serve people and to share my faith and I’m hoping to serve here on campus at ASU. That’s what I think is next in store for me.”
Regardless of what they do, they will always have the bond that they created in Tempe. From the lows of injuries and the highs of upsetting top opponents, the group will be remembered as one that put everything they had out on the floor.
And there’s still more left to write on their story. But for now, they will take one last bow at Desert Financial Arena on Sunday afternoon.
“The cool thing about basketball is we have experienced so much life together in the last four years,” Ruden said. “We have been through battles together and we have been through celebration together and that’s really brought us to have some deep relationships...I know that 10, 20 years from now, I’ll be able to call them up and connect with them to reunite. Those are my sisters and I’m really grateful for them.”