Mikaela Ruef had realised the moment it was time to properly call Launceston her spiritual basketball home.
In her choice words, they were weird and awkward.
It first came the night the American import returned to Elphin Sports Centre, but in the enemy camp for Hobart Chargers, to play across from ex-Tornadoes teammates.
“It was definitely weird for me because I’ve always been a part of the Torns,” Ruef said.
“It was very weird for me when I played against them the first time in Launceston.
“But I feel like I am a competitor and if you put me on the floor against anyone, I want to win just as bad as any game I play for the Torns.”
The second has been well documented in club folklore.
It was the SEABL cutthroat semi-final last year between the two Tasmanian women’s clubs in Hobart.
Ruef had shadowed close friend Lauren Mansfield all night, keeping the Tornadoes captain to just eight points.
But it was an off-the-ball incident that felled Mansfield in the final two minutes, raising the ire of travelling Launceston fans and irked an uneasy Ruef no end.
“I feel awkward is the right word to describe it. It was all a bit awkward,” Ruef said.
“I was shattered that we lost because I gave it my all for us to try and win it.
“The silver lining, or the good thing, about it was that while I was bummed I lost with Hobart, it was nice that Launceston was able to go on as I still had so much love for the club and those players.”
So when the 27-year-old’s planned return was cruelled by a year-ending knee injury playing in France, there was one place she wanted to be.
Ruef had earlier committed to the club, but instead recommitted to sore rehab sessions in Launceston.
“I could have gone home [to the US] and done it, I could have stayed in France and done it, or I could have done it back here,” she said.
“Why I wanted to come back to Launceston was just being around this team, being a part of the team and having a sense of purpose.
“I don’t know but with injuries like this that are such a long-term thing, it’s really hard mentally to get through.
“So to come back here and help the club out, help coach the girls and feel like I’m making a difference to the team has been good for me mentally and help distract me from the fact that this is a really slow process.”
Ruef hobbled into training for the first time at the start of June. It was the same day the Torns named Courtney Williams, a once former teammate of Ruef’s back in the US, as her replacement.
It was a timely reminder how fragile the game is.
“It’s three months post-op now and typically you start running at three months – except I’m a bit behind because I hurt a calf doing my rehab, so I am dealing with that at the moment,” she said.
“It’s a little bit of a setback, but hopefully it’s not too bad.
“Typically with ACLs, it’s anywhere six to 12 months before you can play again, but nine being conservative.
“I’m not rushing it because it’s a long process and I don’t want to do it again.
“My goal was to go around Christmas...but if not, I am happy to wait until the start of SEABL for the Torns.”
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