To say Aolani Rueff’s senior year at Westmont College has been eventful would certainly be an understatement.
The forward on the Warriors’ women’s soccer team, a graduate of Santa Ynez High School, led the Warriors to the playoffs with offensive production comprised of consistent play-making and loads of crucial goals.
Rueff finished the season with a total of nine goals and nine assists while serving as team captain. Her 0.47 goals per game ranked sixth in the Golden State Athletic Conference as did her 1.42 points per game (two points for a goal, one for an assist).
After all that stellar play, her season ended on a sour note.
Rueff tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her final game with the Warriors. Her team lost the game she was injured in, a 2-1 defeat to Biola in the in the GSAC semifinals. The Warriors did make the playoffs, but lost in the opening round of the NAIA National Soccer Championship in Northwood Fla., in overtime.
Clearly, her absence was felt.
To make her feel a little better about that injury and the sudden end to her college career, Rueff was named an NAIA All-American.
“Well it was really unexpected since I tore my ACL,” Rueff said of her All-American status. “I didn't play in the first round of the Nationals and I was OK with that — I was thankful for the experience. Being an All-American was shocking and cool all at the same time.”
To get an idea of how tough the 5-foot-3 Rueff is, she even tried to play with that torn ACL. She said she wasn’t in much pain and there wasn’t visible swelling in her knee.
“I thought I was one of the weird exceptions who are able to play without an ACL,” she said.
However, she ended up further injuring herself by dislocating her tibia while training. She was never pressured to resume playing after that injury, she just couldn’t give up on her team, Rueff said.
“It was definitely my own choice, it wasn’t my family or my coaches,” she said. “It was my senior year. My knee wasn’t swollen and I was able to run and jump — I had to try — if not, my season's over, my career’s over because of it.
“It was a painful realization that I couldn't play.”
Rueff, who is deeply religious, said she felt it was divine intervention, in the form of the dislocated tibia, that steered her along this season’s winding path.
“It says a lot about myself and my faith in God,” Rueff said. “He's in control, if it was His will was for me to play I would know — I prayed for a sign.”
She said when she learned of her dislocated tibia, it was time to let go.
“I was being tested,” Rueff said. “I was thankful for the situation and what I’m going to learn from it.
“I thought it was humorous the way He showed me — I didn't want a painful sign, but it was all in the Lord’s plan.”
Now, Rueff said she can focus on her future. And she’s still not giving up on soccer, the sport she’s played for 16 years. She had surgery on her knee on Dec. 18.
“I’m definitely interested in rehabbing to be able to play (again),” she said. “I’m on a track where I can play soccer again.
“Maybe I’ll tryout for a pro team or go play in Sweden and get away and try something new — It wasn't supposed to end like this.”
Rueff is set to graduate in the spring with a degree in communication studies. Rueff grew up in Solvang and lives mainly in Santa Barbara now. She has family in the Santa Ynez Valley and in Pismo Beach. Her father has worked with troubled youth, either at boys camp or at juvenile hall, and she wants to do the same, helping struggling families or kids who are wandering down the wrong path.
“It's such a broad major, I can take it any direction and I’m really interested in working at a juvenile facility with broken families, broken kids — anything in that direction,” she said.
Westmont is a Christian liberal arts college located in Santa Barbara. Rueff played the last two years with fellow Santa Ynez grad Kaci Mexico, who will be a junior at Westmont next year.