It was loud. It was disconcerting. Playing in a top-tier national tournament at Duncanville High School’s sparkling 2,000-seat capacity gymnasium in Texas last season as a freshman was something Ruelas had never experienced in her career. “I had really only played in front of our parents before in travel ball,” Ruelas says. “It was a little nerve-wracking. It was only my second game of high school.”
Her next game was at American Airlines Arena, the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks with a capacity of 19,200. It was Duncanville times 10.
“Oh my gosh, there were so many people. It was crazy,” she says. “Sitting in the stands watching the game before us, that made me more nervous.” However, once the games started, Ruelas displayed poise and calmness beyond her years. Undaunted. Unfazed. Unflummoxed.
Ruelas established herself as a standout freshman on a talent-laden senior squad and showed she is ready to lead Sierra Canyon’s perennial powerhouse Girls Basketball program into the next great era. Perhaps the Sofia Ruelas Era.
“She is always so poised in big-stage games,” Sierra Canyon Coach Alicia Komaki says. “She understands the game really well. She plays at a very calming pace and has a calming presence on the court. Just those two games alone in Duncanville and Dallas, you look at those moments, and I knew what the future holds for her.”
With a 4.6 grade-point average and her steady play on the court, Ruelas emerged as an ideal recipient for Sierra Canyon’s prestigious #StudentFirst award that recognizes outstanding work in and out of the classroom.
Like on the basketball court, Ruelas exudes a quiet confidence in the classroom. “I know when she raises her hand to contribute something to the class discussion, she will have something insightful to say,” Sierra Canyon English teacher Mikael Romano says. “She’s comfortable with very difficult literature like Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, or Mary Shelley. She understands insight, subtext, and nuance. In terms of her papers, it is thorough and a cohesive thought process. She’s very lucid and is not afraid to grapple with tough ideas.”
Ruelas says she was able to relax in the big arenas by focusing on smaller details of the game. Playing in those large arenas, she listened to her seasoned senior teammates who had experienced these marquee matchups. She was able to block out the crowd noise and adjust to the different sightlines.
“I surprised myself by staying composed,” Ruelas says. “When I focused on the smaller details, I was able to forget about how many people there were. And my teammates really helped a lot. They told me what to expect and how to handle myself.”
Ruelas said she gleaned quite a bit from the senior class that included Ashley Chevalier ’20 (Texas), Vanessa DeJesus ‘20 (Duke), Alexis Mark ‘20 (Boise State), and Rosemary Odebunmi ’20 (Pepperdine), who are all playing Division 1 college basketball. Sierra Canyon—with this strong core of seniors —went 25-7 last season and competed in the Open Division in the CIF Southern Section and Southern California Regional playoffs last season. “They really helped me both on the court and with their advice,” says Ruelas. “They always said to work hard and to go for everything you want instead of waiting for things to be handed to you. Playing against them in practice and watching how they played and approached basketball really helped me, too.”
Ruelas might not produce the big stats, but her value comes from her ballhandling, potent perimeter shooting, and play creating for her teammates. The kind of player who can elevate an entire program. “She’s such a smart player,” Komaki says. “She can shoot the ball well, make good decisions on offense, and I like her defensive tenacity. She’s very reserved overall, but she has a great sense of humor when you get to know her, and she’s very sweet.”
In addition to being a standout basketball player and student, Ruelas also enjoys playing the violin, which she began in 6th Grade at Hale Middle School in West Hills. “We were supposed to choose between an instrument or chorus, and I wasn’t a singer type,” she says, laughing. “It was a big decision to choose.” That decision suited her well. She participates in Rock Band at Sierra Canyon as part of the instrumental ensemble, and she has performed in several school concerts. Just like the basketball court, Ruelas is cool and composed when it comes to performances. “We had one performance at school, and I was proud of how we went from sheet music in orchestra to the other instruments,” she says. “It was me and one other violin. For me to listen and play and be able to listen to the other adjustments, I was really proud of that performance. We played three or four songs, and to go from song to song was really good.”
Ruelas has participated in the Human Rights Club and is currently part of the Finance Club. She has maintained straight A’s throughout high school, including challenging classes such as Honors English 2, Honors Spanish 4, Honors Chemistry, Honors Algebra 2, and Honors World History.
Ruelas is just beginning her college selection process and is planning on taking a college visit trip to several schools in Oregon this summer. She is also eyeing schools like Columbia University. She says she aspires to become a dermatologist. “Skincare has been important to me. I have a morning routine and a night routine. I just remember when I had a minor breakout, and I was given a cream, and it went away. I realize that one product can make a big difference in a person’s life.”
Her parents, Javier and Jessica, both hail from Jalisco, Mexico, though they did not meet until they were in California. Ruelas said she appreciates her family and is thankful to visit relatives in Jalisco at least once a year.
“It’s good to see a different environment,” she says. “I always have heard stories from my parents and what they went through, and I am grateful for the opportunities that I have.”Click here
to watch Sofia's #StudentFirst video.