Rukavina feels wonderful now
| Lana Rukavina bypasses an opponent. |
Wheeling senior over concussion, hopes to lead team Downstate
February 10, 2008
For Lana Rukavina, it was about time.
It was about time she was back leading her team in a big game.
It was about time her Wheeling team finally got a shot at the Mid-Suburban League girls basketball title.
Mostly, it was about time she made up for lost time.
She had lost about a third of her senior season since late December, so when Wheeling's MSL title-game debut Thursday at Schaumburg went into overtime, it seemed only fitting.
It also seemed fitting it was the 6-foot-3-inch lefty who scored Wheeling's final four points in regulation and the go-ahead three-point play in overtime. She also blocked a shot with 16 seconds to play and scored a game-high 19 points in the 52-51 victory that gave Wheeling its first MSL girls basketball crown.
"It feels absolutely amazing," she said. "I'm shaking right now.
"I don't know what to say. I'm beyond happy."
It had not been a particularly jolly season for Rukavina until then. In a rebounding drill during a Jan. 9 practice, she took an arm to the head that caused a concussion. She missed five games and didn't return to action until Jan. 29 against Elk Grove, the first of just three contests in which she has played since.
She already had missed five other games, all in the Warren holiday tournament, to visit relatives in Croatia. She and her family, who have a house on an island just off the Adriatic coast, travel there every summer.
"It feels really welcoming, like home," said Rukavina, whose parents came to the United States before she was born. "You can get anywhere you want by walking, so the lifestyles are different. People are a lot more laid back."
Rukavina has a grandparent, aunts, uncles "and a whole lot of cousins" in Croatia and wanted to see them over Christmas, especially because she will spend the next four holiday seasons with the Illinois women's team.
"It was a rough decision, but I really felt like I wanted to be with them," said Rukavina, who made the trip alone for the first time. "And I figured I would not be able to have that opportunity when I was in college because I'd be preoccupied with basketball obviously, so I figured I might as well do it now when I had the chance."
Wheeling coach Shelly Wiegel supported the decision, especially because Rukavina mentioned it last summer.
"Lana obviously has strong roots here, but that's also a strong part of who she is," said Wiegel, who has won at least 20 games in each of her four seasons as Wheeling coach, all with Rukavina starting. "Basketball is obviously very important, but family always takes top priority."
Wheeling won the tournament without Rukavina. She returned in time for a Jan. 8 game against Schaumburg, in which poor rebounding resulted in a 54-52 loss. A day later, at the next practice, she was injured.
For a week she was sensitive to light and noise and had headaches and nausea, and the headaches and nausea lingered beyond that.
As lousy as she felt during her three weeks out, she felt even worse during games, especially when Wheeling played rival Buffalo Grove on Jan. 24. She pestered Wiegel almost constantly to let her play, but the coach decided to err on the side of caution.
"She was miserable," Rukavina's father, Davor, said. "She wanted so badly to play."
The Wildcats (25-3) wound up 10-0 in their games without Rukavina, who has been coming off the bench since her return. But don't let that fool you. There's no way they are better off without an agile 6-3 forward/center who can shoot three-pointers and has great post moves, including a nifty jump hook.
Wheeling's MSL title gives it one of its two big goals this season. The other is to reach the Class 4A Final Four.
Just to win its first sectional ever, though, the Wildcats may have to get by powerhouses Buffalo Grove and Warren. Last year Wheeling lost in the regional finals to Lake Zurich, a huge upset that serves as a reminder as well as motivation.
"It kind of put things in perspective for us because we came out with our heads too big," Rukavina said.
It's all a matter of timing, and she vows that both she and her teammates will be 100 percent ready for their regional opener Wednesday.
"Our team has so much depth and has had so much success already,' she said. "It just motivates us to get as far as we can."
High Schools: GIRLS BASKETBALL MID-SUBURBAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Lana Rukavina leads Wheeling to victory
Rukavina leads No. 3 team to first MSL title
WHEELING 52, SCHAUMBURG 51 (OT)
By Alan Sutton | Tribune reporter
February 8, 2008
In the entire history of Wheeling's girls basketball team, it's doubtful the Wildcats have felt as good as they did Thursday night.
Lana Rukavina came off the bench to lead Wheeling to its first Mid-Suburban League championship with a 52-51 overtime victory at Schaumburg.
The 6-foot-3-inch senior, who has been recovering from a concussion, led the No. 3 Wildcats (25-3) with 19 points -- including the basket that sent the game into overtime.
"I'm at a loss for words right now," the Illinois signee said. "This is a giant milestone not only for our team, but for our school and I'm so happy to be a part of it."
A large part.
The 35th MSL title game was tied 47-47 going into overtime, and Rukavina put Wheeling in control. She hit one of her patented left-handed jump-hooks off the backboard with 3:03 left. As a bonus, she was fouled and made the free throw for a 50-47 lead.
The teams traded free throws, then a basket by Kylie Castans brought No. 15 Schaumburg (24-5) to within 52-51 with just more than a minute left.
The Saxons had one more shot at a victory with 7.8 seconds left after a Wheeling turnover. But Drewann Pancratz's attempt in traffic at the buzzer rolled off the rim.
The victory avenged a 54-52 loss to Schaumburg on Jan. 8.
"We just didn't come out with our heads in the game," Rukavina said of that loss. "And we knew that this time we had to get down to business."
Schaumburg lost starter Gabrielle Blackwell (eight points) early in the second quarter to a muscle pull but rallied from a 36-27 deficit to take a 43-40 lead. Rukavina then scored twice down the stretch -- including the basket that tied the game at 47-47.
Wheeling's Janelle Cannon added 12 points. Schaumburg was led by Castans' 15.
Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljić
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