Millard North’s McKenna Ruch entered this season with high hopes

Millard North's McKenna Ruch, left, broke the pinkie on her right hand against perennial Iowa power Hull Western Christian. The injury, which will require surgery Friday morning, will sideline the hitter up to six weeks.

Millard North’s McKenna Ruch entered this season with high hopes.

The 6-foot-2 senior was coming off a junior year in which she helped lead the Mustangs to their second Class A title in three years. Her performance landed her a spot on the All-Nebraska first team.

Ruch also was ready to take a bigger leadership role after the graduation of seven seniors, including four starters.

But those plans changed Saturday at the Bellevue West Invitational. The UNO commit went up for a block at net against perennial Iowa power Hull Western Christian and broke the pinkie on her right hand.

The injury, which will require surgery Friday morning, will sideline the hitter up to six weeks.

“It was kind of a freak thing but we have to live with it,” Millard North coach Lindsay Peterson said. “She’s one of the best kids I’ve ever coached, on the court and off.”

The injury occurred late in the best-of-three quarterfinal against Hull. Ruch stayed in for the final few points as the Mustangs prevailed 25-22 in the third set to win.

“I tried to pull her out but she wanted to tape it up and stay in,” Peterson said. “She served once and got a stuff block at the net with her left hand.”

But it was obvious Ruch couldn’t continue and the Mustangs dropped their semifinal against top-ranked Papillion-La Vista. Ruch went to the hospital and received the bad news before returning to the tournament.

“Everyone was bummed when I came back and told them the news,” she said. “There were some tears shed but it’s going to be OK.”

Peterson said it was difficult news for everyone.

“That really took the wind out of our sails,” she said. “But it’s not the end of our season and we’ll just have to carry on the best we can.”

Peterson said it was especially tough on senior setter Izzy Lukens, the team’s other returning first-team all-stater.

“I talked to Izzy separately because those two are such close friends,” the coach said. “They have a special chemistry between them.”

Ruch is no stranger to injury, having broken her right thumb during club season her freshman year. But surgery wasn’t needed and she eventually returned to the Millard North lineup.

She pounded 283 kills that season to help the Mustangs win their first state title since 1987. Ruch had 340 kills as a sophomore for the Class A runner-up and 362 last year as the 38-2 Mustangs won the championship.

The senior was off to a strong start this season, smashing 70 kills in five matches before the injury.

Since then, Ruch is trying to maintain a positive attitude. She says she will be a vocal leader for her team before hopefully returning to the lineup in mid-October.

“I’m going to support my teammates the best I can,” she said. “And I’m already doing my own little workouts to stay in shape.”

Peterson said she likes the way her team has played without Ruch, including a win over Omaha Marian in the third-place match Saturday at Bellevue West.

“I was extremely thrilled the way we responded,” she said. “We’ve changed the lineup a couple of times already and we just need to stay strong while McKenna is out.”

The Mustangs have a challenging week, which includes a rematch Thursday night at Papillion-La Vista.

“I keep reminding the girls that it’s not where we are now that counts but where we finish,” Peterson said. “Hopefully we’ll be an even stronger team late in the season because of this adversity.”

Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.

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