Go, go, go.
From the way that she presents herself to the way that she plays, that is all Ellie Ruby is about — going 100 no matter the score or the situation.
But as Ruby will tell you, her all-out style of play is motivated by her height.
Just 5-1, the three-sport athlete is admittedly small in stature. However, the accomplishments that Ruby has garnered — All-Southeast District in basketball, All-Ohio in volleyball, and a state champion in the long jump in track — would make one believe that the senior standout is at least a foot taller just by going off of her amazing accolades.
“I told her, ‘You have to outwork the person that you’re playing against,’” her father, Todd, said.“‘You’re not going to be the biggest person out there. You’re probably going to be the smallest. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t compete and you can’t win.’”
And ultimately, her heart wouldn’t be denied.
On Dec. 7, Ruby, who will depart as one of the most decorated student-athletes, boys or girls, to ever play at Wheelersburg High School, officially knocked down another amazing feat when the three-sport standout signed to play volleyball and participate in track for Mount Vernon Nazarene University in a signing ceremony held inside the halls of WHS — which brings a sigh of relief to the person who has put so much time and effort into becoming one of the quintessential figures that Wheelersburg is all about.
“I’m very relieved now that I have signed,” Ellie said. “There’s a lot of stress that has been relieved. I’m so excited to play two sports. It’s always been my dream to continue to play volleyball and run track, so I’m super excited for what the future has in store.”
Playing two sports, however, is an accomplishment, and a relief, that is well-deserved, especially according to Wheelersburg head coach Allen Perry, and Todd, who assists on the Pirates’ track and field coaching staff.
“It is really special,” Perry said. “I’m glad this has worked out for her, because I know that she didn’t want to give up volleyball or track. I’m just super proud of her to be able to do that, and I’m just really glad that it’s going to work out for her. She’s going to be able to do that and not give up either one of her favorite sports.”
“We wanted Ellie to do what she was excited about doing,” Todd said. “If that meant she wanted to pursue athletics in college, we would totally support that, and if she chose not to do that, we would understand and be totally supportive of that option as well. I’m just really excited to see that the hard work has paid off. God has definitely blessed her with talent for her size. She has been blessed with some talents to do some amazing things, and I am 100 percent behind her, supportive for her, and just really excited that she gets that opportunity to (balance two sports).”
In basketball alone — the lone sport that Ruby participated in high school that she isn’t doing in college — Ruby has earned two Second-Team All-Southeast District honors and Honorable Mention All-Ohio accolades during her sophomore and junior seasons for a program that has shared or won the SOC II outright in each of her three seasons of varsity competition — with two-thirds of her senior season still to go. Ruby averaged high-water marks of nine points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.2 steals, and three assists during her junior year alone en route to setting the tone for last year’s SOC II champions.
That speaks volumes in and of itself.
“(Dusty) Spradlin has been there all four years with me, and we have a really good bond,” Ellie said. “We always joke around with each other. (Aaron) Kallner was the one who taught me how to play basketball and all of the basics of the game. (Jeff) Brown and Coach Spradlin really just took me as a freshman and molded me into the defender that I am today. They just always know how to humble you and make you realize that there’s still things that we all needed to get better at, which makes our whole team better.”
However, it’s far from the only sport where Ruby has made an exceptional impact.
In volleyball, Ruby became the program’s all-time leader in digs by eclipsing the 1,000-dig mark this season — officially doing so against Raceland (Ky.) on Sept. 25. There, the senior improved her dig totals in every year by going from 79 as a freshman to 523 as a senior en route to a school record 1,272 dives.
Ruby, who also obtained 428 service receptions to finish with 1,088 for her career, also finished with 124 aces during her four-year career and obtained First-Team District 14, and Second-Team All-Ohio, honors in her final campaign en route to leading Wheelersburg to a 20-3 overall record and a Division III Regional Semifinal berth.
“We made it to district finals, but could never finish the deal,” Ellie said. “To do so this year was super exciting. We had a very young group, but I had a lot of fun playing with those girls over my last year here. “Kendra (Coleman, Wheelersburg’s prior head volleyball coach) just taught us a lot about working hard and never settling for anything less than the best. She was a very determined coach and taught me a lot about being a better passer and a better leader. When (Coach) Coleman left, I was a little leery at first, but our volleyball coaching staff this year was amazing and full of go-getters,” Ellie said. “(Tricha) Boggs helped a lot with positioning on defense, and we learned how to have a good work ethic.”
“I wish that I could’ve coached her for four years,” Perry said. “I’m just thrilled to have had the chance to have coached her for even one season. Me coming in, and her accepting me, just brought the team together. That’s what allowed us to gel and work together as a unit. The leadership that her and Mia (Darnell) provided allowed us to set the tone from the beginning. They made it clear that they were going to accept us and work hard all year.”
However, as good as Ellie Ruby is in basketball and volleyball, her abilities on the track realm are the ones that will be arguably remembered more than any other.
Since her adolescent days, Ellie has grown up under the tutelage of Todd, who, like most Wheelersburg parents and coaches, have pushed their kids to go above and beyond. Ellie and her older sister, Sadie, have done nothing but just that, with the pair sitting at the top of the Wheelersburg record books in numerous categories.
Sadie is the school’s all-time leader in the 400 meter dash and 3200 meter run along with the 300 meter hurdles, while Ellie holds the school marks in the 100 and 200 meter dashes along with the 100 meter hurdles. Ellie also ultimately eclipsed an 18 foot, three inch jump this past season that eclipsed her state winning and previous school record holding 18 foot, 1.5 inch jump in 2016.
Even with the success that both girls had and have had as Wheelersburg track athletes, all sides are quick to admit that it is certainly nerve-wracking to have a father-daughter relationship transform to player-coach.
“Being able to spend time with your daughter in the coaching aspect is exciting, but there’s a difference in coaching your own,” Todd said. “It’s exciting watching them compete, but you’re harder on them. You don’t want to be, and you say that you’re not going to be, but it never works out like that. Ellie got to watch Sadie compete for six years before she started competing, and honestly, I attribute a lot of Ellie’s success to following Sadie and what Sadie has accomplished. Sadie, actually, set the standard for Ellie. They are both gifted and have a lot of talents, but Sadie set the standard. Being able to work with her really helped Ellie, and it’s been exciting to see what they have accomplished.”
“My Dad and I have had our ups and downs,” Ellie said. “We both have butted heads in track, but it always works out for the best. We have worked out together. He’s the one who has pushed me in track the most, and got the most out of me. I’m very thankful for that, because without that, I don’t know where I would’ve been, or if I would have even ever made it to state, let alone have a chance of winning a title. He has been a big asset to the whole track program as a whole.”
That payoff was evident in June of 2016, when Ruby, who also qualified for state in the 100 and 300 meter hurdles, jumped the then high water mark of 18-1.5 at the OHSAA Division II Track and Field Championships. However, Jamari McDavid of Kenton Ridge did likewise. Ellie, however, was understandably nervous beyond control because the then-sophomore thought she had jumped an 18-1.25 — not an 18-1.5 — on her first jump.
“The first jump, I popped off an 18 feet, one-and-a-half inch jump,” Ellie said. “A girl (McDavid) came back and jumped 18-1.5 as well, so it goes to your second-best jump. I had jumped an 18-1, 18, and 18, and she had only jumped a 17-6 as her second-best jump, so it came down to that. It was nerve-wracking because I felt that I had only jumped an 18-1.25, so when I heard that she had jumped an 18-1.5, I got so upset.”
But after a review — and a long 30 minutes of waiting that Ruby said she was pretty sure “was the longest of her life,” it was Ruby who, indeed, emerged on top. With both individuals having jumped an equal 18-1.5, it came down to the second best jump, and Ruby’s second-best jump, an 18 foot mark, bested McDavid’s second best by 5.25 inches, which gave Wheelersburg’s newest star sensation a state championship.
“They said, ‘No Ellie, you jumped an 18-1.5 too!’ So we’re standing there, waiting. I will never forget it. I don’t think that they (the officials) could have counted that any slower. Whenever they announced it, I just went over and gave my parents, my sister, my grandpa, and Coach Boll a hug,” Ruby said. “Just knowing that my Dad was my coach, and helped get me to that point, was just very special. It’s something that I’ll never forget.”
“Ellie chose to work in the weight room and spend time after her freshman year, when she did well at the state meet in track,” Todd said. “We talked about it, and from that point forward, have spent time in the weight room for the last three years together. It’s been fun, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.”
In 2017, however, the road wasn’t as smooth for Ruby. After suffering a broken finger during basketball season, Ruby had to sit out the first five weeks of the track season — an unusual feeling for the three-sport standout who is always moving. For once, she had to sit still.
But after having to sit to keep sweat from causing infection to three inserted pins, Ruby returned — two weeks early — and proceeded to put on a blistering pace, even battling through a sprained ankle in district competition to, once again, qualify in the long jump, 100 meter hurdles, and 300 meter hurdles at the state level for the third consecutive year in as many seasons at the high school level.
“(Paul) Boll has been there at every meet and has always been one to say, ‘Good job,’ after any race or any jump, even if you think you didn’t run the best,” Ellie said. “I really get along with Coach Claxon well, and he has pushed me in some drills that I don’t want to do and complain a lot about on a 24/7 basis, but he really found the drills that makes me the hurdler that I am. I thank him for all of that. It’s going to be weird without him this year.”
The mental strength that allows her to overcome such obstacles, you ask? Her family, friends, teammates, and coaches — the very people who inspire her.
“All of the coaches and teammates that I have had shaped me into the player or the runner that I am today,” Ruby said. “They’ve built my character and have helped shaped the way that I have carried myself in all of those sports.”
In addition to taking on the workload that participating in two college sports will have to offer, Ruby will continue to hone her craft in the area of speech, as the Wheelersburg native will pursue a career as a speech pathologist so she can work on developing the skills of kids who have speech disabilities.
“She’s so fun to be around,” Perry said. “All of the girls just love her to death, and she’s a good leader. She just has a great personality and is always positive.”
While her future is set, Ruby still has goals she wants to accomplish. With the second half of her final basketball campaign, as well as her final season of track, coming up in the near future, Ruby’s goals are clear — to lead her team deep into the postseason in basketball, qualify at the state level for the fourth consecutive year in track, and take home a second state title in the latter sport. More than one title, as evidenced by her blistering first times in the hurdles, isn’t out of the question, either.
“It has been super exciting being able to make it to state over my first three years here at Wheelersburg,” Ellie said. God has just blessed me with the talent that I have, and I owe everything to Him. Being able to qualify for state has been an accomplishment for myself and how hard I’ve had to work to get there because of how short I am or everything that has proven to be deficits for me.”
But make no mistake about it — Ellie Ruby didn’t get to this stage just through God-given ability. She’s a worker. And a worker, she’ll always be.
“I told her, ‘You have been blessed, so what are you going to do with it?’” Todd said. “‘Even though you may be small, you have to do something with it. How are you going to better yourself and the people around you, and just be an example for your teammates?’ She takes that to heart, and that’s the way that she plays. Whether it’s been volleyball, basketball, or track, she steps on the court and she plays like she doesn’t want to lose.”
“It’s the instinct in me,” Ellie said. “From where I am so tiny, I have to work for things. It has never come easy.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT