The Launceston Tornadoes will be without arguably their best player for the upcoming SEABL season with US import Mikaela Ruef signing with WNBA club the Los Angeles Sparks.
The 26-year-old, who hails from Beavercreek in Ohio, will leave for the US next week to take part in a three-week training camp after which the Sparks will finalise their team for the 2017 season.
“I’m really excited about it and I’ve been wanting to play in the WNBA since I was a little girl,” Ruef said.
“To get the opportunity to potentially play there will be amazing but obviously I’m bummed – I love it here and have been coming back for this will be my third year now and I love Tasmania, the team and the people.
“It is a disappointment not to be able to play with them but it was such a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass it up.”
Ruef’s move back to the US has left the Torns with the difficult task of finding a replacement tall with the start of the SEABL season only 11 days away and having already lost Tayla Roberts and Ally Wilson.
“It’s really exciting for Mikaela to be in the WNBA and reward for all the hard work she puts in,” Tornadoes coach Ben Rush said.
“It is definitely a big challenge – finding a player who is available of the same quality is not going to be easy but we are working hard on it and we will just wait and see how that pans out.
“Our goal is to have someone here to start the season in just under two weeks time but if we don’t have someone first game we will go in with a group of guys who will compete and give Hobart a good shake.”
A 191-centimetre forward, Ruef has played with the Torns for the past two seasons alongside WNBL seasons with the Sydney Flames, Adelaide Lightning and Canberra Capitals.
“The WNBA is the best league in the world so getting the opportunity to play in that league is awesome and LA was also the defending champs last year so to be able to join that team would be even more incredible because they have so many amazing players,” she said.
Ruef has signed a contract for a year but said the club had the right to cut players at any time.
“I have to prove myself in the training camp and show them what I can do and work really hard.
“If they keep me on they keep me on and if they cut me they cut me.
“You have to be confident because if you go in there and are unsure of yourself that shows in the way that you play.
“I’m confident and I don’t think they would have invited me if there wasn’t a spot on the team that they need filling.”
She said her time playing professionally in Australia in the SEABL and WNBL had helped her develop her game and realise her dream of playing WNBA.
“It’s definitely helped me, I’ve shown I can score more and be a force to be reckoned with in rebounding especially.
“If I don’t end up making the team and the Torns still haven’t filled the spot I would definitely love to come back here because I love it here.”