The 6-3 junior had been told by doctors to give up the sport because of her knee condition.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HOWLAND -- Michelle Rura felt she had let her basketball team down. That's why she was the only one to cry after Howland lost to Canfield early in the season.
Thing is, Rura, a 6-foot-3 junior center for the Tigers, didn't even play in that Dec. 13 game. In fact, she hasn't played all season.
"That was the hardest on me," said Rura of the Canfield defeat. "I thought I could be out there helping them win. I fell apart after that."
Rura, who contributed to Howland's run to the regional last season, now admits she is stronger -- mentally and physically -- and is ready to prove it.
Alters orders: Because cartilage in her left knee has deteriorated, Rura has been advised to end her basketball career. She has followed those orders this season but recently has decided to alter them slightly.
"I went to the doctor on [on Jan. 21] and he lessened my restrictions," Rura said.
Rura is now allowed to run, just not a lot on hard surfaces, she said, and was cleared to participate in recreational sports, like golf.
"If [the doctor] is letting me run a little and practice a little, I should be able to play," Rura said. "They were like, 'OK, just a little bit,' because too much running is not good.
"But he still told me that if he were me, he wouldn't play."
Rura is intending to make a return. Her first action this season could come Saturday at Poland in a key Metro Athletic Conference game. Howland, Poland and Canfield are tied for first place with 5-2 records.
Still, if Rura does check into a game, she probably will be limited to one or two minutes.
"She played with the same amount of cartilage [in the knee] last year as she has in it this year," Howland coach John Diehl said. "But doctors are looking [at the impact on her knee] in the long run."
Only played one year: Rura, who had received numerous college recruiting letters, has played just one full season of varsity basketball -- as a sophomore. She spent her freshman season recovering from surgery on her left femur.
In May, 2001, Rura felt soreness in her knee and returned to the doctor, who later broke the discouraging news.
"He said I could take his advice of not playing or jeopardize the rest of my life at 16 years old," Rura said. "I had to make a hard decision."
Rura made the decision not to play but didn't tell most people until October, 2001. Now, with doctors lessening her restrictions, she wants to contribute, even if it's only in a minimal way.
"I'm just proud she has wanted to be part of the team" under difficult circumstances, Diehl said.
One season after finishing 22-3, winning the MAC title and qualifying for the Division I regional, Howland (13-2) is making another run.
"Our turning point was beating Sharon [15-1] in the Brookfield Holiday Tournament," Diehl said. "That gave our girls a lot of confidence."
The team has thrived on a recently-installed guard-oriented offense, the addition of Niles transfers Marianne and Kristy Krezeczowski and the solid play of Darcy Quinlan, Emily Andrews and Kristina Ferenac.