By Mike Deak
WINONA LAKE – In a journey that has taken 12-plus years to complete, Kate Rulli doesn’t have to travel far for the next step of her athletic life.
In what amounts to about a half-hour drive and 25 miles on the odometer, Rulli will take her basketball talents from NorthWood High School to Grace College to become the sixth college recruit for the 2024 Lancer class.
Rulli, who was a Top 100 invitee by Hoosier Basketball Magazine, was not heavily recruited in what was a stellar senior year. Rulli had fielded interest from in-state schools like Franklin and Earlham, but it was coach Dan Davis and Grace that got a hold of Rulli during the Panthers’ run to a state title. Even after the championship, Rulli was not committed to a school, and Davis felt like he had an in to the surprisingly available 6-0 post.
“I kind of spent all of quarantine getting to know Grace and fell in love with it,” Rulli said. “In the end it was between Grace and Franklin and obviously I chose Grace.”
Added Davis on the surprise find, “Their assistant Corey (Duncan) reached out to us about Kate during their state run, and to be honest, we were shocked she hadn’t signed. Then COVID hit and it’s like ‘boom’ we’re done with our season, and we’ve got a spot still to fill. A couple of Zoom calls with the family, and we got her down here to campus to visit in person. Man, we felt like we got a good one.”
There certainly is some familiarity with Rulli and the NorthWood connections with the Lady Lancers. Grace assistant coach Carol (Duncan) McGregor helped lead the 1999 NorthWood team to a state championship, and Rulli being a major part of the program’s second title in 2020. Rulli, a physical interior presence much in the mold of the former Carol Duncan, fits the bill of the interior presence Grace is looking to establish.
Rulli is also very familiar with some if her new teammates with a pair of former Warsaw graduates Maddie Ryman and Kaylee Patton, as well as Morgan Ruff (Rochester) and Kaylie Warble (West Noble), all of which played against Rulli and NorthWood.
“One of the first things I wanted in a team was one with close relationships, and from watching them play and seeing how they act, I knew that I would enjoy being on a team with them,” Rulli said of the Grace culture. “Yes, I played against Kaylee and Maddie, but I’m definitely looking forward to playing with them because both are very solid players with great personalities.”
Rulli, along with Maddy Payne, were a driving force for teams to try to stop all season for the Panthers. Rulli averaged 12.5 points and eight rebounds per game. Her monster opening night of 31 points and 14 rebounds set a tone in a win over South Bend Riley, and Rulli would go on to finish with six double-doubles for the season. In four games of a championship run at the Banker’s Classic tournament in December, Rulli had 54 points and 30 rebounds, including 23 huge points in a semi-final win over Merrillville. And in the state tournament run, Rulli amassed 70 points and 57 total rebounds in the six wins that brought home a state title, including 10 caroms in the finals against Salem.
“Kate’s skill set and accomplishments are outstanding as we saw over her four years of growth at NorthWood,” said Adam Yoder, former NorthWood girls basketball head coach. “Those skills and accomplishments will serve her well at Grace, and our BlackSwish family is extremely grateful to and excited for Kate and Grace. There are few student-athletes in the area who can match Kate’s measurable record and what is even more impressive, her immeasurable record thus far exceeds that. As a tremendous competitor and worker, she is one of the most caring, team-first players I’ve coached in any sport/gender in my career.”
Rulli intends to study pre-physical therapy at Grace.
“We think Kate will fit into our style really well,” Davis said. “It’s not about the style you were used to, it’s do they have the skills that’ll make them successful. Can she play basketball? Can she bang inside in this conference? We need that size and physicality. We want those kids who have that drive to succeed. I really don’t think she knows her potential yet. We can tap into that.”