Tuesday, April 12, 2011

SPORTS >> Rough and ready, Ruple kicks in

Leader sportswriter

There is no room for princesses on the soccer field — just ask Taylor Ruple.

Ruple, a junior and two-sport standout at Jacksonville High School, can tell all the tales of hard knocks and rough play in the trenches.

Then she can show the bumps and bruises to back it all up.

Most of Ruple’s 28 career varsity goals have come the hard way, with defenses zeroing in on Jacksonville’s only consistent scoring threat.

The Lady Devils’ most recent outing, a road game at Mountain Home, was especially tough on Ruple. She went up for a header with a Mountain Home player and instead of heading the ball, they headed each other, resulting in a black eye that covers a good portion of the right side of Ruple’s face.

“My nose was bleeding; I thought I had lost my tooth,” Ruple said. “It really didn’t swell up, then I woke up Saturday morning, it was all blue. Over the past few days, it’s gotten a lot worse.”

It may have been poor timing, as Ruple was sought for a newspaper feature and photos just days later. But she scoffed at the idea of using a photo-processing program to lighten some of the bruised area.

“It’s a battle scar,” Ruple said. “I want people to know that I’m tough, and I don’t play around with soccer and that I’m aggressive. I don’t mind getting down and dirty.”

But chasing glory on the soccer field is only a part of what motivates Ruple. She also has a grade-point average above 4.1 and is projected to be valedictorian when she walks with her graduating class in May of 2012.

Ruple grew up playing classic soccer with the state champion Arkansas Soccer Club Angels, and when word spread there might not be enough players to field a high-school team at Jacksonville last spring, Ruple, then a sophomore, put together a campaign to recruit players from around the school.

Classmate and Jacksonville Soccer Association mainstay Katie Lawrence was the first on board with Ruple, and the two eventually brought 13 girls into the program, just enough to field a team.

With help from athletic director Jerry Wilson, Ruple and the Lady Red Devils ended up playing a partial schedule, even securing a 6A-East Conference victory that gave them a spot in the state tournament.

“We had soccer meetings in the gym with coach Wilson,” Ruple said. “We talked to freshmen and people in my grade, and just asked them to come out and see if they like it.

“We recruited basketball players and volleyball players, and Katie Lawrence, she helped me with the recruiting.”

With state champion Searcy in the same league, Jacksonville suffered some tough losses the first year. But the Lady Red Devils (2-3, 2-1) are off to a much better start this year and the roster has expanded to 22 players.

Ruple said the team’s goal was to win enough games to earn a No. 3 or a No. 4 seed in the state tournament, and one more conference victory will most likely accomplish that.

Athletics are a yearlong activity for Ruple, who is also the starting libero for the Lady Red Devils volleyball team under coach Melissa Reeves.

Ruple is also in the Olympic development program for soccer, and attends college camps throughout the summer.

Her academic interest is science, and Ruple plans on pursuing a veterinary degree in college.

Her preference is the University of Arkansas, where she would like to play soccer for the Lady Razorbacks.

But she is not ruling out the University of Central Arkansas or Central Baptist College in Conway, both of which have expressed interest in her.

“Ruple brings leadership to the field, and she’s an outstanding student,” Lady Red Devils coach Addie Sereal said. “Her passion for soccer shows on the field. It is a joy to have her on the team.

“She’s a great leader in guiding those who have less experience than her. I believe that having her on the team has inspired the others to be better.”

Ruple has made improvements along with her team. She slimmed down from her sophomore size, which has increased her speed.

Though already enjoying some success, Ruple is not content. While her goals for this year are playing out, she has already established a new set for next year.

“We have so much more potential — so many more players that know what they’re doing,” Ruple said.

“Our ability to play is much better from last year. Next year, we could have the potential to win state.”