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‘Above and beyond’: SJ Ruybalid is WBB’s star manager

A woman holding a basketball.
SJ Ruybalid holding a basketball.
Courtesy of SJ

“There is something that just clicks in my mind about taking care of the team,” explained Women’s Basketball Manager Sally Jane Ruybalid ’22 GS.

Ruybalid is a former senior columnist for ‘The Daily Princetonian.’


Ruybalid has managed the Princeton women’s basketball team since September 2019. She finally landed the job at the start of her junior year of her undergraduate studies, her third attempt vying for the position.

As manager, Ruybalid has a wide-ranging list of duties including scoreboard management, equipment and gear transportation, and meal organization. Additionally, she sets up for games and practices and is “always running around with water,” according to Lilly Paro, director of basketball operations for the women’s team. 

“She’s very quick on her feet,” junior forward Paige Morton said. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do my job without her,” Paro noted. “She’s just a rock star.”

Matching the equivalent of four people’s work on the men’s basketball team — one head team manager and three additional managers — Ruybalid said she has her work “down almost to a calculation.” 

When she started out, however, Ruybalid was co-managing along with Kristen Starkowski GS ’21 and Sarah Tian ’18. Now, she stands alone, supporting a team of 17 players and five coaching staff members, including Head Coach Carla Berube. 


“It’s shocking how much she’s able to do as one person,” said Paro. “I know that when she’s present, she makes my job 100 percent easier.”

Ruybalid got her start taking down basketball statistics on paper at her high school in Las Animas County, Colo., after a bad knee injury ended her soccer career. Growing up in a rural town where the main attractions are “work and [playing] sports,” statistics and supporting teams on the sidelines allowed her to stay involved in the athletic scene while focusing on academics.

Once she enrolled at Princeton, she discovered that the NCAA does not employ student statisticians for games. Thus, she became interested in managing, citing the “fun opportunities” of basketball. 

Dressed up in a full suit at what was supposed to be her third interview for the manager position in three years, Helen Tau, the then-director of basketball operations, had Ruybalid film an early September practice. 

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“She was like, ‘Okay, see you tomorrow,’” said Ruybalid. “And I was like, ‘See you tomorrow?’”

On her first day of practice, then-junior Carlie Littlefield ’21 dubbed her “SJ.” It caught on quickly and has since become Ruybalid’s well-known nickname around campus.

In her senior year of undergrad, Ruybalid won a selective Spirit of Princeton Award, commemorating her campus achievements as basketball manager, Princeton Chapel Choir member, and Butler College Peer Academic Advisor. 

After graduating, Ruybalid stayed in Princeton, beginning her candidacy for a Master of Architecture at the University in 2022.

At first glance, basketball and architecture may seem like an odd combination, but Ruybalid sees a clear intersection. As manager, she often has to consider the “efficiency of space” to meet a team’s needs — whether it’s on the courtside or in the locker room. Looking forward, she hopes to incorporate her hobby-turned-passion in her architecture career, possibly by working on arena design. 

She attributes her decision to stay on as team manager through graduate school as a “stabilizer” for her after spending long days in the architecture studio.

“I always tell [Paro], ‘Hey, I’m here because I want to be,’” she said. 

Ruybalid spoke very highly of the women’s team, coaching staff, and Paro. She drew attention to all of the elements that make for a strong game, including the 6 a.m. lifts, 4 a.m. airport trips, fitness tests, and hours upon hours of practice.  

“I think one of the best things — one of the best feelings ever — is seeing the joy of the team, the coaches, the staff, the families,” she said. 

Ruybalid travels to games with the team as much as her graduate studies allow, ensuring that the balls are pumped with air and that meals are organized for the team.

And, she’s committed on site. Morton recalled a time when Ruybalid walked nearly 30 minutes and back to find a place that sold Mott’s fruit snacks — a favorite of the team — at an away game, since they weren’t in stock at the local store. 

Ruybalid has also rushed to meet the women’s team at games or practices after returning back from travel on multiple occasions, according to sophomore forward Taylor Charles.

“It’s definitely great to hear her on the sidelines cheering us on,” Morton added. “She really cares about each of us, regardless of basketball and how we perform.” 

First-year guard Ashley Chea also sung Ruybalid’s praises. “She goes above and beyond and gets the job done for us, whenever we need her to.” 

Since Ruybalid stepped into the role of manager, the women’s team has seen two NCAA playoff tournaments. Currently, they sit at the top of the Ivy League with a 20–4 overall record, and they were ranked in AP top 25 for four consecutive weeks — their longest streak since Berube began as head coach. 

With the team bidding for their sixth-straight title in Ivy Madness, Ruybalid is ready to get to work.

As manager, Ruybalid has received portions of the nets that are cut down after a win at the Ivy League championships, a championship ring, and a varsity sweater. But the team also shows their appreciation for her in non-material ways. 

Ruybalid referenced a time in 2021 when she had to go into emergency surgery, and the team sent her a get-well-soon video while scattered across the globe in different time zones.

“Every now and then when things get really difficult, I watch that video,” she said. She said she believes the team has taken great care of her thus far. 

Ruybalid’s signature move is to dress up at each match as a way to show “respect for the game.”

“She’s always the best dressed on the sidelines,” said Paro. Players also made reference to her signature red lipstick worn on game days. 

“I feel like I’ve never seen her repeat an outfit,” agreed Morton.

Ruybalid highlighted the feminist movement that defines women’s basketball and the impact they’ve had on girls and young women who tune in to games. She noted a celebration for National Girls & Women in Sports Day a few weeks ago when the team was signing autographs. 

“There were little girls literally crying over meeting Kaitlyn Chen or Katie Thiers,” she said. “It’s really poignant to see the outcome.”

Ruybalid will be graduating from the University next year after completing her master’s. As she leaves her manager era behind, the sport will continue as an unwavering part of her life.

“I don’t think basketball is ever going to leave me,” Ruybalid said. “I’ll always come back to basketball.” 

Gia Musselwhite is an assistant Features editor and News contributor for the ‘Prince.’

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