SPOKANE -- Numbers don't lie: redshirt junior Mikaela Ruef will have to pay her own way to play for Stanford next season.

The program won't have any scholarship money for Ruef although she has played a big role in helping top-seeded Stanford reach its 20th Sweet 16 where it will play Georgia on Saturday night at the Spokane Arena.

Coach Tara VanDerveer expects to have 19 players next season after losing only senior Joslyn Tinkle once the current campaign ends. But schools are limited to 15 scholarships in women's Division 1 basketball. Ruef and three others essentially will be walk ons.

"I don't want it to end," said Ruef, who plans to earn a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering. "We'll figure out how to pay for it."

Stanford’s Mikaela Ruef (3) blocks as shot from Pacific’s Ashley Wakefield (11) during the first half of an NCAA women’s college
Stanford's Mikaela Ruef (3) blocks as shot from Pacific's Ashley Wakefield (11) during the first half of an NCAA women's college basketball game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The 6-foot-3 forward from Beavercreek, Ohio, probably will have to work part time as well as attend classes and practices. She plans to apply for scholarships as soon as the season ends.

Her father, Mike, drives a school bus and works as a study hall monitor. Her mother, Katie, who works in information technology, was out of work for a while because of the economic downturn. She now works at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton.

The Ruefs' situation underscores the economic hardships highlighted by candidates making their way through Ohio in the recent presidential election.

Mike worked in the tool and die industry out of high school for 25 years but was laid off as the jobs transferred overseas. He is using a Pell grant for displaced workers to earn a secondary education degree, and hopes to teach math at a local high school.


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Asked about the burden of sending three children to college Mike said Friday by phone, "Everybody's got it tough."

When Mikaela was 7, she told her mother not to worry about sending her to college.

"I'm going to play well enough you won't have to pay, Mom," the girl said.

Stanford will pay for Ruef's upcoming summer school but she has to fund two quarters -- about $28,000 -- to complete the master's program.

"How many people only have to pay for two quarters to get a master's at Stanford?" VanDerveer said. "She understands that's a valuable thing in the big scheme of things."

Ruef, after all, isn't a candidate to play professionally. She has started 28 of 35 games and is the team's second-leading rebounder behind Chiney Ogwumike at 6.6 per game.

Her rebounding, passing and defending have given the Cardinal (33-2) an element it needed to make its third appearance in the Spokane regionals since 2008. Stanford will need another balanced performance against fourth-seeded Georgia. The Lady Bulldogs (27-6) qualified for their 30th NCAA tournament and advanced to their 20th Sweet 16 under coach Andy Landers.

Ruef's post presence will be important because Ogwumike, the Pac-12 player of the year, can't do it alone. Georgia has two All-Southeastern Conference forwards with 6-2 Jasmine Hassel and 6-3 Anne Marie Armstrong.

Ruef didn't seem like a probable starter this season after missing all but three games a year ago because of a foot injury. She averaged 20.9 minutes per game as a freshman, but only 10.1 minutes as a sophomore.

Ruef, who wears a lost-in-the-clouds look on the court, hasn't let her blue-collar background bother her at Stanford. She recalled a professor once asking classmates which parents worked for the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Many hands shot up.

"I'm like, who's McKinsey?" Ruef said.

Then the professor asked if anyone had heard of Mary Kay?

"My mom totally sold makeup for them," Ruef said. "Nobody else in the class had heard of that."

Described by teammates as awkwardly social, Ruef is opening up this year. After scoring nine points Tuesday to help Stanford rout Michigan in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the forward addressed her inability to monitor time on the court.

"I have this habit of running to the ball at the end of the shot clock, even though I'm not supposed to," Ruef said. "When it gets that low, somebody has to throw it up there, so I figured, why not me?"

VanDerveer, sitting next to her forward, responded: "She doesn't care about her field-goal percentage."

But she and the family do care about the coming year no matter how difficult it is to pay for it.

"A master's from Stanford makes it that much sweeter," Mike Ruef said.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.