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Time out to pop the question

Wesmen guard calls boyfriend down to court for big proposal

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KELLY MORTON PHOTOGRAPHY
Wesmen�s Tia Ruddock asks for boyfriend Ramon Burke�s hand in marriage at courtside Friday night.

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KELLY MORTON PHOTOGRAPHY Wesmen�s Tia Ruddock asks for boyfriend Ramon Burke�s hand in marriage at courtside Friday night.

University scoreboards buzzed over the weekend, busy at this part of the season where some championship quests end, others push forward and some just begin.

Endings: At the University of Manitoba, the Bison women's hockey squad skidded to a halt as the Regina Cougars knocked them out of the Canada West quarter-finals. The 'Toban squad lost the first match 2-0 and the second 3-1, and with that, their season was done. For some, it marked the end of a college career -- the Saturday loss was the last game in Bisons colours for fifth-years Amy Lee, Caitlin MacDonald, Rachele Bosc and Danielle Vigier, who will now move on.

Beginnings: There is more hockey to be played at the U of M's Wayne Fleming Arena this week after the Bison men clinched fourth place in Canada West with a weekend split with visiting University of British Columbia. The finish itself is an achievement after the Bisons stumbled so hard to start the season. With a young roster and a tough schedule ahead, the Bison men won just two of their first 10 conference games.

But the Bisons clawed their way back up, and their 2-0 win over UBC on Saturday locked them into fourth place, and that means this weekend they'll host at least two quarter-final playoff games against Mount Royal. "We liked how we played on Saturday, in playing to our identity," head coach Mike Sirant said Monday. "There was a lot of growth from the beginning of the season... I think we feel good about where we are right now."

Elsewhere on the weekend, other post-season journeys soldiered forward. In volleyball, the Bison women spiked out a quarter-final win over the University of Alberta Pandas, taking two victories in four sets each to win the best-of-three. The Bisons' star outside duo of Rachel Cockrell and Taylor Pischke were hitting supreme. They killed 30 balls between them in the first match and ramped that up to 38 in the second game.

The whole team came to play. "It was one of our best games of this entire season," Cockrell said after her squad practised on Monday. "I just think finally all our hard work paid off. This is what we're working for."

Now, they'll gear up to fly to the University of British Columbia on Thursday for the Canada West Final Four. Their first opponent will be Trinity Western at 8 p.m. CST on Friday. Whatever happens there, the achievement whispers promise: All but three of the Bison women are in just their third year of eligibility. They all came up together and made it to the conference quarter-final in 2013 and 2012. Now they're pushing deeper.

"It's very exciting for us," Cockrell said. "Just the maturity level, as we're all in our third year, that definitely helps."

-- -- --

Then there was this from the University of Winnipeg's Duckworth Centre on Friday night, an ending and a beginning all wrapped up in one.

It was Valentine's Day, yes. It was also the last Wesmen women's basketball game of the year and what may have been Tia Ruddock's final tilt in Wesmen colours. The former Red River College player must wait until spring to learn if she'll be granted CIS eligibility for one more season, and with her college hoops future still up in the air, Ruddock wanted to make memories that would stretch beyond the court.

So at halftime, the 5-8 guard stood up, called her longtime boyfriend Ramon Burke down to the floor and proposed. For a couple whose relationship revolves around "love and basketball," as Ruddock said, it was a fitting place. Because no matter what happens with the CIS decision, their lives are steering toward change.

"I wanted to take this opportunity and go out with a bang," said Ruddock, 22, a biosciences technology grad from Red River College now working toward a science degree.

Ruddock had a speech folded in her hand, but in the moment, she was almost too overwhelmed to read the words. "I really started to break down, basically, when I got up to ask," she said. "I was trying to keep it together in my head, and as soon as I was talking... well, I think I only said the first two sentences."

When Ruddock's voice trembled, her teammates' voices rose up as the Duckworth Centre erupted into cheers and shouts. Burke, stunned, just told her that he loved her. It wasn't until the next day they realized he hadn't actually given her a formal answer. "Obviously, I'm going to take that as a 'yes,' " Ruddock laughed. "He's still wearing the ring."

Then, while the joy of it all was still so fresh, the Wesmen went on to shoot an 87-72 win over their rival Bisons. Going out with a bang.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2014 C5

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