By Joel Hafnor
The pieces had finally started to fall into place for Ruta Zurauskyte in late 2011. After two frustrating seasons marked by injury and inaction, Zurauskyte dazzled early in her junior season, including a 33-point, 13-rebound masterpiece against UC Irvine. On Dec. 15th of that year, Zurauskyte would tear her ACL in practice, derailing the breakout season she'd been working for.
Eleven months removed from the terrible injury, Zurauskyte returned to the court for another go at her junior year of eligibility. She wouldn't disappoint. The recovery was remarkable, as evidenced by her averages of 10.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. This spring, the 6-foot-4 center took another step in the recovery process when she began playing without a brace on her knee.
In our interview with the Bronco senior, Zurauskyte (RZ) tells SantaClaraBroncos.com (SCB) about her immigration to the United States, the trepidation that follows a knee injury and what lies beyond basketball:
SCB: You originally hail from Lithuania. When did you move to the United States? What are some of the every day differences between life in Lithuania and life in America?
RZ: I first came to the United States my junior year of high school where I played basketball for two years in Denver. One of the major differences between my life in Lithuania and the US was public transportation. Back home I was used to taking a bus to go to practices or just see my friends and here everyone seemed to either own a car or at least have a driver's license. I felt very dependent on others, especially in high school. Thankfully my teammate, Ashley Armstrong, was generous enough to teach me how to drive and helped me tremendously in getting my driver's license this past year.
SCB: Talk about the setback suffered in December 2011 when you tore your ACL. It seemed like you had just started coming into your own as a player, having posted a massive 33-point, 13-rebound game just 12 days earlier. What was the most difficult aspect of the recovery process?
RZ: In December of 2011, just 10 games into the season I tore my ACL. It was a devastating injury for me, especially since it was my first year of being a more significant contributor on the court. It was very tough for me to watch my team from the sidelines knowing that I would not be able to get back until the following year. The most difficult part of the recovery was knowing how mentally tough and long the process would be since I've watched a few of my teammates go through the same injury.
SCB: Despite the injury you were able to return to the court in fall 2012, enjoying an impressive junior campaign with averages of 10.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and over a block per contest. Was there any apprehension in your game when you initially returned to the court?
RZ: Our training room staff, my coaches and teammates were a huge help coming back from the injury. Although I was able to fully recover, there was always a concern in the back of my mind about injuring my knee again, especially since it is very common in women's basketball. I was finally able to put all the doubts behind once I stopped wearing my ACL brace this past spring and fully re-gained confidence in my knee.
SCB: What do you personally hope to accomplish during your final season with the Broncos? How about as a team?
RZ: Being a fifth-year senior, I have very few personal goals. All I am hoping for is to bring experience and leadership to the court. Throughout my five years, I have seen our program get better every year and this season our expectations are extremely high. Our team goal is to make it to post-season play as well as posting a strong winning record.
SCB: What awaits beyond Santa Clara?
RZ: With getting a redshirt year, I was fortunate enough to enroll in the Master of Science in Finance program at Santa Clara. After graduation, I am hoping to get a job in either corporate banking or private equity sectors. I am not sure whether it will be in the US or Europe yet.