Personal growth. Championships. Adversity. Tragedy. Resiliency.
Somerset's Kellie Ring has run the gamut of emotions and experiences during her successful four-year basketball career at the University of St. Thomas.
Ring improved each season. She had a breakout year in 2011-12 off the bench for St. Thomas' 31-2 team that swept the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season and playoff crowns with a 24-0 run. The Tommies went 7-1 in the postseason, placed third nationally, and had a 30-game winning streak after a season-opening loss.
The Tommies' lone senior, Ring sparked her 2012-13 squad to a 24-6 record, a conference playoff title, and a trip to the NCAA playoff Sweet 16 round. St. Thomas went 2-2 against teams ranked in the top five nationally, and had a pair of 11-game winning streaks. UST beat a nationally No. 1-ranked team for the second year in a row.
Ring learned last week that she was among 16 players from 50 institutions voted All-West Region by d3hoops.com. She earlier was named All-MIAC, and twice was named MIAC Player of the Week. Ring led all conference players in steals with 95 in 30 games.
St. Thomas was 17-2 in games when Ring scored in double figures during her career. In 101 games, she finished with 545 points, 176 rebounds, 198 steals and 196 assists. She sank 57 three-pointers and converted 74 percent at the foul line. She played in every game over the last three seasons as the Tommies posted a 75-15 record in that span.
Ring and her teammates learned how difficult it was to break into the national elite, and even tougher staying at the top. St. Thomas' graduated four key individuals from last winter's squad, but expectations were high as it returned a good mix of talent and steady role players.
Then in game one, a season-opening loss to No. 1-ranked Calvin, two injuries threw the Toms for a loop.
Four losses in a six-game January stretch dropped UST out of the national rankings. Ring and others pulled together and St. Thomas unleashed an 11-game winning streak that ended with a 10-point loss to No. 2-ranked Hope in the third game of the NCAA playoffs.
St. Thomas head coach Ruth Sinn credits Ring for leading her team through the mid-season slump.
"Kellie is a bulldog, a bulldog with some bite," said Sinn. "When I went to scout her in high school, I loved the daring she exhibited. You can't teach that. She has that attitude that she wants to have a certain court presence and make a difference."
Ring unleashed that style last season off the bench during the Tommies' 30-game winning streak. She carried it over to this winter as she collected 95 steals and beat teams with her outside shot, her drives, her free throws and her hustle.
"She really contributes on both sides of the ball," Sinn said. "She's often somebody's nightmare with her defensive pressure, and on offense can hit the three-pointer, attack the basket and, as the point guard, distribute the ball."
Ring's legacy at St. Thomas will go beyond her impressive stat lines and team wins. She will be remembered for the grace and toughness she displayed at midseason after the sudden death of her father, Greg, who suffered a heart attack on Dec. 30.
She played well in two games days before and another one day after the funeral, giving a lift to a team that was already slowed by injuries.
"We all were in sheer admiration of how well she was dealing with a real-life tragedy," Sinn said. "She was worried more about other people. She found a lot to give to others. She's a survivor."
Sinn said basketball helped Ring and her family deal with the shock and pain of her father's passing.
"On the one hand, it was the hardest thing in the whole world to do because my dad has never missed any of my games," Ring said. "It felt so wrong that he was not in the stands watching me and my team play. But on the other hand, I knew he would want it no other way than for me to be out on the court playing.
"The support system I have is incredible. It was so amazing to have all my family and people I care about come to our games. They definitely helped me get through, and I think basketball helped us all move forward one day at a time and one game at a time. Not only was basketball great for my family, but my teammates, coaches, and parents/families of players on my team could not have been more amazing and supportive. I could not have done anything without them. I am so thankful to be surrounded by such phenomenal people."
Ring has a 3.41 grade-point average, majors in Biology, and is looking at a career in medicine, perhaps working as a physician's assistant. She said the lessons she has taken from athletics, plus the relationships and support from St. Thomas, have prepared her well for her career path.
"I loved every single game and minute that I was playing basketball here," Ring said. "We accomplished so many great things. But my experience at St. Thomas has been way more than just strictly basketball. The relationships with my team and coaches are the most important things to me. I am so proud of the camaraderie and how everyone cares for one another. I would drop anything for the girls on my team.
"All my years have been different here. I know this year is one that I will never forget. It's definitely been the hardest for me, but I know I'm stronger because of it."