The senior, who had been out with a knee condition, played three different tines as the Tigers beat Poland.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
POLAND -- Michelle Rura is back. Howland High took a big step in the MAC. The Tigers girls basketball team had a lot to celebrate Saturday.
Not only did Howland defeat Poland 47-34 to remain atop the Metro Athletic Conference standings, but Rura, the Tigers' junior standout who has been sidelined all season by a knee condition, returned to action.
"I was excited, but I think I was a little overexcited," Rura said. "I had a little nervousness mixed in with the excitement."
Three times: A 6-foot-3 center, Rura entered the game Saturday at three different junctures. The first came with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the first quarter when she missed her only shot attempt in 20 seconds on the floor.
"She definitely brought the crowd to life," Howland coach John Diehl said of Rura's return. Rura's teammates also enjoyed watching her check into the game for the first time amid cheers from the crowd.
"You get a big vibe that comes over you. You get a rush of excitement," said Howland's 5-10 junior center, Kristina Ferenac, who has stepped up in Rura's absence. "It was really bad news at the beginning of the year when we heard, so it's really nice having her back."
Rura also played the final 1:56 of the first half, missing two shot attempts. Her final stint came in the final 34.8 seconds of the game, when she grabbed two rebounds and converted a missed free throw at the buzzer.
Another try: Rura had been advised by doctors to end her basketball career after cartilage in her left knee had deteriorated. When her restrictions were lessened, Rura wanted to give basketball a try again, even if her action would be limited to a couple of minutes per game.
"That's what she's going to do for about the next year and a half," Diehl said, referring to her play against Poland.
The progress Rura showed was symbolic of Howland (14-2, 6-2), which rebounded from its upset loss Wednesday to Salem and proved itself as a worthy contender to defend successfully its MAC title.
"Honestly right now, they're a better basketball team than we are," Poland coach Jamie Dunn said. "We dug a hole for ourselves. The last couple games for us, it's been self-inflicted wounds."
Strong start: Howland led from start to finish, flourishing by its play in the opening minutes when it stormed to a 15-3 lead on the hot hand of junior Darcy Quinlan, who scored all 10 of her points in that run.
The Tigers maintained the lead despite foul trouble to Ferenac, whose play throughout was a reason for their success. Ferenac finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
"Kristina is the best defensive post player I've ever coached, bar none," said Diehl, who has coached four first team all-state centers. "She just takes care of every post player we've played against."
Tutelage: Ferenac knows her play now is a byproduct of the tutelage she has received from other Howland standouts.
"It feels good inside, but playing against Angela [Cape] and Michelle [Rura], that's what made me better," Ferenac said.
The closest Poland (12-4, 5-3) got in the second half was six points (19-13), at the outset of the third quarter. Howland pushed its lead to 16 points twice in the fourth.
Senior Marianne Krezeczowski led the Tigers with 16 points, while junior Kristy Gaudiose paced Poland with 10 points.