Time Out: November 20, 2013
“The Zone” is a term used to describe people working at peak performance levels at whatever they do. Zone-like states in sports involve total like concentration and engagement, control, and a unity of mind and body during performance. Oneonta’s star athlete, Mariah Ruff, a local sports phenomenon who cut her athletic teeth several years ago in Andes, spent last week almost locked in that zone.
On Wednesday, Ruff became the first Oneonta girls’ basketball player to ever be awarded a full scholarship to play for a Division I college when she signed a national letter of intent to play for St. Bonaventure. I attended the signing and was struck by comments made by Oneonta Athletic Director Joe Hughes as he introduced the signing event to Oneonta athletes.
Hughes emphasized that when a college calls a school to inquire about an athlete, the first thing they want to know is the character of the student/athlete they are recruiting. “What kind of a person is he or she?” What attitude do they bring to the court or playing field? What kind of a teammate are they? How would you describe their work ethic? It’s answers to questions like theses the colleges and universities are eager to know.
Hughes went on to say, the second thing that almost every college asks is, “What kind of student is the young man or woman they are recruiting. It’s only after those two questions are answered that recruiters inquire about a prospect’s playing skills.
I’d wager most young student athletes would have that question order turned upside down. Most kids would likely think colleges would want to know sports, academics and character in that order. The Hughes message was a good one.
Oneonta’s bright, young basketball coach Matt Miller was also thought-provoking. He explained that when Mariah Ruff arrived in Oneonta, everyone had a concept of what it meant to be an Oneonta girls’ basketball player. During Ruff’s four years, her dedication to the game and her attention to off-season preparation, including work in the weight room, has redefined the definition of what a basketball player at Oneonta should be.
“How can I play like Mariah Ruff?” Miller claimed young girls playing basketball today are asking that question now. Miller added that the weight room in Oneonta is no longer the domain of only the guys who play sports in Oneonta.
Over the weekend, Ruff stayed in the zone taking the field as Oneonta’s center midfielder in the New York State Class B Soccer Tournament. My wife and I traveled to Cortland to watch Mariah play on Saturday night in the semifinals. She didn’t disappoint. With the Yellow Jackets trailing 1-0 in the second half, Ruff sliced through a crowd to head a corner kick into the nets for the tying score. Oneonta earned a trip to the finals the following night when, with less than six minutes to play in regulation time, they scored the winning goal.
The following night, the script repeated itself, with Ruff heading a corner into the nets to knot the score at 1-1 in the second half, and the Jackets scoring the winning goal with under one minute left to bring home the state title. And, that little kid I knew at Andes, Mariah Ruff, a kid who is not so little any more, was named the Tournament MVP.
The Mariah Ruff story is an incredible tale of a local kid with big dreams. Mariah’s basketball dreams began when she was knee high to a grasshopper at seven or eight years old. She hung tight to those dreams like a pit bull and put in the work to see them come real ever since.
There were folks who couldn’t wrap their heads around Mariah’s thirst for stiffer competition when she left Andes and headed for Oneonta. Dreams like Mariah’s are unusual, but often success is what you gain and where you are as a result of pursuing such dreams.