Since stepping foot on campus at South Dakota Mines in 2017, Ryan Weiss has been making history. The redshirt senior guard has climbed into the top-20 on the team's all-time leading scoring list, and she just became the school’s all-time leader in three-point field goals made.
Off the court, Weiss’ resume is equally as impressive. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering last spring and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Engineering Management.
Despite all the accolades on and off the court, Weiss says her successes have not come easy.
“Coming in as a freshman, if you told me all of the things I would go through, I would be like, ‘Woah’,” Weiss said. “I have had horrible, horrible days. But at the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself.” After a torn ACL, a sprained MCL, a torn labrum, a stress fracture in her ankle and a leg infection, Weiss continues to show her unwavering resolve as she rewrites the history books for the Hardrockers.
Before she was breaking records and battling through adversity in South Dakota, Ryan Weiss was a competitive child living in Ames, Iowa, the home of Iowa State University. Growing up with two older brothers, Brett and Walker -- who now stand at 6’6” and 6’7” -- she said her desire to compete sprouted in her backyard, where they would play against each other with their father, Craig.
“Every year, on Christmas Eve, we have our annual two-on-two games, so it’s my dad and I against my two brothers,” Weiss said. “I would just like to say that we are undefeated, despite their height advantage. Those games would get pretty heated, there was a lot of trash talking.”
After spending much of her childhood shooting with her family in her backyard or local gym, Weiss had developed a passion for basketball, prompting her to take the sport more seriously in fifth grade when she joined the All-Iowa Attack, a club team based in Ames.
“That was the first time I was on a competitive travel team,” Weiss said. “We had a lot of intense practices. Just because you are in fifth grade doesn't mean they go easy on you. That was when I realized, ‘Yeah I want to work with this, I want to be the best, work on this every day, and really make it a part of my life.’”
While playing with the Attack, Weiss said she began to identify the talent she possessed as a three-point shooter, which forced her to work relentlessly on her craft and perfect the art of shooting as a teenager. Although the young basketball star admitted she would live and die by every shot she attempted, Weiss said her mother, Sue, helped keep her even keeled by rebounding for her and offering support while she was shooting.
“My dad definitely helped me with my technique, but my mom really was the one that was always rebounding for me,” Weiss said. “If I was frustrated with how I was shooting that day, she was always there to rebound and encourage me. So that was awesome.” With her parents looking on, Weiss took her intensity and competitiveness into Ames High School, earning a spot on the varsity basketball team as a “scrawny” freshman, and landing a starting role as a sophomore.
While she made significant contributions to the team in her first two seasons, it was not until her junior year that Weiss emerged as one of the primary leaders on the team. Weiss, who was named team captain in her senior year, said being able to motivate and guide her younger teammates offered her a unique perspective that she could take with her entering college.
“I thought it was really a cool experience to realize people are looking to you, and what you can say can impact somebody else’s practice or game,” Weiss said. “Just a few words of encouragement here or there could really mean a lot, especially coming from an upperclassman.”
Weiss’ leadership and scoring ability for the Little Cyclones caught the eye of many Division-II colleges, including South Dakota Mines, the small school in Rapid City, South Dakota with just over 2,400 students. Despite being some 600 miles away from her home, she decided to visit the school after the Hardrockers head coach at the time -- Ryan Larsen -- called her in September of 2016.
After spending some time on campus and around Larsen’s basketball program, Weiss decided to pull the trigger on the Hardrockers and enroll in the University, where she could pursue both her education and basketball career at the same time.
“I flew out, came on a visit, and it kind of checked all the boxes for me,” Weiss said. “Being on campus, I just had a feeling,” Weiss said. “It was a smaller campus, I kind of liked that. And it sounded like it aligned with my goals. It seemed like it would be a good competitive fit for me.”
Stepping foot on South Dakota Mines’ campus as a freshman in 2017, the Iowa native said she made a smooth adjustment to life as a college student. She threw herself into her academics and her teammates welcomed her into the program with open arms. This comfort Weiss had on campus translated to individual success on the court, as she started the final 22 games for the Hardrockers and averaged 8.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and two assists per game.
After that 16-13 campaign in her freshman season, Weiss looked to take another step forward. While the sophomore guard played the first three games of the 2018-2019 season and averaged 6.7 points per game, her momentum was halted in December when doctors discovered a cyst on her right ankle bone.
Although doctors removed the cyst from her ankle, Weiss said the injury took a scary turn later in the month when an abscess was discovered near her ankle bone, causing an infection to spread on her right leg that resulted in a two-night stay in the emergency room. “The rest of my leg just started getting hot and red and swollen, so an infection was spreading,” Weiss said. “So at that point, I was like, ‘Am I going to die, what is going on?’ And it was during finals week, so it was not ideal to be emailing my professors.”
After doctors successfully performed surgery on her ankle, Weiss returned to the team in January, hoping to play the rest of the season. However, the sophomore guard was dealt another low blow when she suffered a stress fracture in her right foot that forced her to miss the rest of the 2017-2018 season.
Although she had just sustained two injuries in just two months, Weiss said the adversity she faced allowed her to develop a newfound perspective on life off the court, even as it served as a motivating factor on the court. “One thing I learned was not to take any time I have out there for granted,” Weiss said. “You never know when an injury is going to pop up or some unforeseen circumstance will happen. That really sparked the desire to work even harder and be back out there.”
With a new life perspective and a fiery competitive edge now in place, Weiss said she attacked the offseason with a different level of focus and intensity. However, that momentum was once again halted when she suffered yet another serious injury in the beginning of the 2019-2020 season -- this time a tear in her right labrum.
While many collegiate athletes would have elected to have surgery right away, Weiss said she instead chose to play the entire season with the injury and go under the knife in the offseason, as she did not want to watch another season go by her as she watched from the sidelines.
“I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to play pain free, but it kind of helped me mentally to switch it into another gear,” Weiss said. “[The tear] led to a lot of hamstring issues, there were times where my trainer had to be activating my hamstring on the sideline of the game, but it was worth it. I was just happy to be back out there playing with the team. It was just a fun season.”
Playing through pain the entire season, Weiss made sure her redshirt sophomore season wouldn’t go to waste, as she led the team with 16.9 points per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 48 percent from three.
After the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Weiss elected to have surgery on March 11, 2020, putting her through an intense rehab process that involved a number of hip exercises. The rehab process didn’t stop her from working on her game, however, as she continued to work on “form shots” and ball-handling drills while recovering from the injury.
Weiss entered her redshirt junior campaign with hopes of staying healthy for the entire 2020-21 season. She played the first 16 games of the season and led the Hardrockers with 17.2 points per game -- the highest mark of her career -- until she suffered what she called "the most heartbreaking injury” of her career on Feb. 20, 2021. It’s an injury she can still vividly recall almost a year later.
“It was three minutes into the game, I was driving up the court and kicked out to my teammate. And I just stepped wrong,” Weiss said. “It was my right knee. I tore my ACL, sprained my MCL, had a bone bruise, it was the whole ‘blow out the knee’ injury.” Suffering yet another catastrophic leg injury that would cause her to undergo another lengthy rehab process, Weiss said she couldn’t help but have negative thoughts. To stay positive, the redshirt junior point guard said she relied on her unwavering resiliency and faith, something that had gotten her through adversity throughout her life.
“That was the moment that really tested my faith,” Weiss said. “I was like ‘Why Me, God?’ I had already gone through these other injuries, and I was just excited to be playing out there. That was the time in my life I grew in my faith the most, just relying on God to get me through. It really helped me to focus on what I could control and realize that this was happening for a reason and that I’m going to make the most out of this process and grow a lot mentally and physically.”
While Weiss could have isolated herself during the rehab process, she decided to stay with her teammates as they completed the regular season, offering them support from the bench during games and practices.
This gesture following such a significant knee injury allowed her teammates -- including sophomore guard and Weiss’ best friend Bailey Johnson -- to gain an even greater respect and appreciation for their team leader, as it showed that she was not going to give up on the team and let her injury define her season.
“She was still out there encouraging us in practices, just still telling us ‘good job,’ she was still there,” Johnson said. “It just shows that she cares, she cares about the team and making us better overall.”
Ryan's mom, Sue, added a unique perspective. "As a parent, it's hard to watch your child go through so much adversity, especially when she attends school 9 hours from home. But Ryan's trainers (Alyssa Egan and Hannah Wendel) and coaches have played a tremendous part in facilitating Ryan's ability to get back on the court."
Following an eight-month rehab process that Weiss described as “a lot harder than the hip one,” the now-redshirt senior is no longer leading from the sidelines. Since returning from her injury on Nov. 18, Weiss leads the team with 12.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while also shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three. More importantly, Weiss is climbing the all-time scoring list for the Hardrockers, and, as mentioned, is now the school’s all-time leader in three point field goals made.
According to Sue, "Ryan would be the first to credit her Mines career three-point record to being blessed with many unselfish teammates who always look for the open shooter."
When asked separately about her recent feat, Ryan said, “I didn’t know I broke the record until [Head] Coach [Jeri] Jacobson told me after the game. The gym we played in . . . same gym I tore my ACL in last year so upon further reflection it’s kind of a full circle moment. I was just happy to be out there playing again with my teammates." Looks like Mom know her daughter pretty well.
As for Coach Jacobson's take: “I’m so proud of and happy for Ryan on breaking this record. I am not sure there is anyone who has spent as many hours as she has in the gym perfecting her craft. And with all the adversity she has faced with injuries, what she has been able to accomplish is remarkable and a testament to her work ethic. She has had seasons cut short and still managed to break this record with a little over a month left of her senior season. There’s no one more deserving and I’m forever grateful that I was able to witness a decent amount of those shots the past 3 years and I’m looking forward to that number growing the rest of this season.”
Weiss is also excelling off the court, as she is currently pursuing that master’s degree in Engineering Management and serves as the president of the on-campus group “Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” which meets once a week with other athletes to read bible verses and discuss their faith.
As Ryan Weiss puts the finishing touches on her collegiate resume, there is one thing for certain: she is an expert on dealing with adversity. With a multitude of season-ending injuries, rehab assignments and moments of self-doubt behind her, she hopes to become a role model for other collegiate athletes who suffer through significant injuries.
Her message to those athletes:
“It’s okay to feel down once it first happens, but you can’t change it,” Weiss said. “You just have to have that mindset that, Ok, this happened to me, I’m going to attack the next day, whether it's three reps of something, just get it done. Keep going and keep believing in yourself and rely on those people around you. But it will get better. Your hard work will pay off.”
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