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From Buljan to big time high school hoops

Ruiz, Ladas go straight to the varsity in freshman seasons
By: Brett Ransford, Press Tribune Correspondent
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As the junior high girls basketball season prepares to tip at schools all around the region, memories still linger of last year’s Buljan eighth-grade team. The Bulldogs had lost the prior year in the seventh-grade title game, their only setback of the season, but last season was special as they rolled through a perfect 13-0 campaign. While the new stars of Buljan lace them up for the Bulldogs, two of last season’s stars are on the fast track to basketball success. Unfortunately for Roseville hoops fans, Brianna Ruiz and Kristin Ladas have moved on to schools outside the city limits. Both girls joined their high school teams last summer in preparation to land spots on the varsity and both succeeded. For both players, brothers already enrolled in high school played a role in their transfer outside of their Roseville residences. Ladas followed her brother, Josh, to Whitney High in Rocklin and Ruiz joined her brother, Nico, at Del Oro. Both brothers are currently seniors on those schools’ varsity boys’ teams. Allan Warnock coached the two stars in their championship finale to middle school. He led them to last year’s league title. “I’m a little surprised that they’re both playing varsity,” Warnock said. “Both of the schools they are at have very good varsity teams. Especially at Del Oro, (Coach Mike Takayama) doesn’t pull up freshman very often. I was shocked when I saw they were playing on varsity because the teams are so strong.” Ruiz and the Golden Eagles are the runaway leaders in the Sierra Foothill League as she managed to crack the varsity roster on one of the section’s most dominant teams. To get playing time as a freshman at Del Oro is a rare honor for the 5-foot-10 freshman, who has started and come off the bench this season. “We thought about going to Rocklin, but we couldn’t find a house and my brother already attends Del Oro,” Ruiz said. “All of the girls were very welcoming and Coach Taka talked to me during summer and really wanted me to be on varsity. Kristin and I used to be really close and we were the unstoppable dynamic duo. I have really good teammates (at Del Oro) but I definitely miss playing with Kristin.” Takayama said Ruiz’ athleticism combined with her basketball prowess is a great fit for SFL reigning champions, owners of 40 straight SFL league wins. “Her attributes really fit into our style of play,” Takayama said. “During the summer she played with us and showed she had all the skills and mental maturity to fit right in. There was no doubt in my mind she’d be playing varsity basketball. She’s just so talented right now playing the three and four positions and when Maddie (Campbell) is a senior (next season) I can see Brianna going to the two.” Whitney head coach Joel Williams said Ladas fills the needed point guard spot with a high basketball IQ and matching skill level. At 5-foot-4-inches Ladas’ reputation preceded her entrance to the high school level. The Lady Wildcats are in the hunt for a Pioneer Valley League title with the young Ladas in the starting lineup. “My goal was to make varsity but my goal was also to start on varsity,” Ladas said. “I had to work hard to get to that starting position. I trained with Emily Johnson from Del Oro (now a sophomore point guard at UC Santa Barbara) for the last couple summers and she really helped me out. I don’t think I’ve had a bond as good as with Brianna on the court. We were just unstoppable together and I definitely miss playing with her.” With Ladas’ brother on the Wildcats’ varsity basketball team, Williams said he had heard of Kristin from junior high and AAU coaches before she got to Whitney. “We tried her in some varsity summer league games and she played extremely well,” Williams said. “My first time seeing Kristin play was in the summer between her seventh and eighth-grade years. She played on the local Rocklin AAU team (that played in the Whitney gym). She also has a unique drive to want to be the best. I look forward to watching her progress and become a star in the next few years. She is a just a treat to coach.” “For a freshman, her IQ and floor presence is very impressive,” Williams said. “She at times is hard on herself because she expects to be the best player. She is a solid outside shooter and a creative and good finisher at the basket. Her vision on the court is the best on our team.” The Buljan Bulldogs move on this week with a whole new group of players who hope that they can follow the more recent graduates of the school to great basketball heights.