Imagine growing up learning your own culture, language and sport. Then you hop on a plane and leave all your friends, family, teammates, mentors and country, to go to school in a different part of the world. On top of all of that, you’re playing one of the most popular intercollegiate sports at the highest level.
Then your world comes crashing down when you become unable to even listen to music without getting a headache.
Starting point guard for the Brock Badgers women’s basketball team Ana Sofia Rua is no stranger to adversity. She began playing her sport because of the obstacles she faced as a young female athlete.
“I used to play everything in elementary school. I would play the weirdest sports; badminton, rugby, swimming, but my main sport was soccer. Soccer is big back home, everybody knows [Cristiano] Ronaldo. But I always only saw boys around me and decided it was time for a change. When I was 11 years old, one of my best friends told me to come try out for her basketball club, and ever since then I have been playing.”
Fast forward eight years later, and now she is the leading the entire OUA in total assists and assists per game with her dimes and mesmerizing ball control.
“It’s weird, I’m not going to lie, because last year I almost didn’t play. This year, it’s so good to be a starter, to finally be able to be there for my teammates and feel like I’m part of the team.”
What makes her story even more inspiring is the way Sofia Rua has adapted to the different style of basketball in U Sports.
“It’s hard when you come from a different type of basketball and country. Everything is so different. It’s definitely much more physical in North American basketball. My practices back home would focus on technique and ball handling. I have a lot of ball handling that my teammates don’t have, but my teammates are way stronger than me. Back home, I wouldn’t go to the gym as much as I do now.”
There was a time last year where going to the gym felt like something she would never get to do again.
“Back home, I never heard the word ‘concussion’ before. It was really tough for me because I am a really dedicated student. Every spare moment I have, I am studying. With a concussion, you can’t do anything. You can only lay in bed in a dark room.”
Concussions range in severity and recovery times. Originally with a recovery estimate of two weeks, she blames herself for her elongated injury absence.
“The doctors would say I could study for two hours, but I would push it to four, and that was stupid of me. Although I recovered, it took me a long time and it was hard to adapt to that, especially missing home without a lot of friends. What was key was the support of my teammates.”
Last year, Sofia Rua had some great teammates, and she knew she would have had to come off the bench if she was even healthy to start the season.
“Last year, I was playing behind two amazing point guards in Melissa Tatti and Bridget Atkinson. Not to say being a starter is better than not being a starter, but this year, it’s great to be able to make an impact.”
Things could have gone differently however, as Sofia Rua’s recruiting process was different from an international perspective. She had to reach out to universities herself, instead of the other way around. Brock made Sofia Rua’s shortlist as former head coach Si Khounviseth had told her he was interested in her. With Khounviseth being her sole connection to the program, his firing (which occurred the same day she was scheduled to visit the school) left her future with Brock up in the air.
“The day I landed in Canada, I received an email from [Khounviseth] that said ‘I was fired.’ I applied to three universities. Laurentian, Ryerson and Brock. Ryerson never said anything, never responded. So Brock was basically my only option. However, Brock was a great first step in Canada and I don’t regret my decision at all. Today, Brock would have been my first choice.”
Sofia Rua and the rest of the team will get the chance this Wednesday to make Ryerson regret not pursuing her in front of busloads of Brock fans as they “Attack the MAC” (Mattamy Athletic Centre) in an intense showdown between the Badgers and the Rams. These are the type of teams that the Badgers have to start defeating if they want to become a contender in the OUA, Ana has high hopes for the team this year.
“I think our goal should always be to beat last year. Make the playoffs for sure, then decide what we can do from here.”
Sofia Rua also has one last message for all her fellow Brock peers. “I want to encourage people to come to our games. Come to women’s basketball. People just show up at the end of our games because the men’s game is starting. Just an hour earlier. We’re not the warmup for men’s basketball”.