Her brothers are Duke athletes, too. But Ruthie Jones may be better than the boys

·5 min read

Daniel Jones came into Duke an unheralded recruit and left a top-10 NFL draft pick. Ruthie Jones arrived at the school as one of the top goalie recruits in women’s soccer and has backstopped the Blue Devils to the NCAA Sweet 16 as a sophomore. The sky, her coach says, is the limit for her.

Is she going to end up being the best of Duke’s three Jones siblings? It’s certainly possible, although Daniel certainly sets a high bar.

The third, brother Bates, a grad transfer from Davidson, will join the men’s basketball team this fall, so for now, Ruthie is the only one of the four siblings from Charlotte in college competition. (The fourth sibling, Becca, played field hockey at Davidson.)

It’s easy to lump the Jones kids together because three of them ended up at Duke, but the destination is almost a coincidence. Daniel was four years ahead of Ruthie, and her campus experience was more as a fan than an insider. He didn’t really recruit her to Duke, nor did Ruthie recruit Bates, although she’s thrilled he’s coming this fall. There wasn’t any grand plan; they were all drawn to Durham for their own reasons.

“We all sort of did the same thing, I guess, but I feel like when you look more closely at it, all of our journeys have been different, although our paths have crossed, obviously,” Ruthie Jones said in an interview Tuesday. “Three people coming to Duke was not anticipated, especially in the beginning, before everything happened, before any of us were being recruited for anything.”

But there’s no question it worked out for Daniel, and is working out for Ruthie. After taking over for last year’s starter in the second game of the fall season, Jones has made the job her own.

Overtime and a huge save against Arizona State

The ninth-seeded Blue Devils have her to thank in part for being alive to face unseeded Mississippi on Wednesday at WakeMed Soccer Park, with all eight women’s games played there Wednesday and all eight men’s games on Thursday as both NCAA tournaments move to Cary for the duration. Duke and North Carolina are among five ACC teams still playing on the women’s side, while North Carolina is one of five from the ACC on the men’s side.

Duke will be on Field 2, in the shadow of the stadium. It’s familiar turf for Jones, who has played many a game there and was particularly excited to have the entire tournament played in her home state -- a small reward at the end of a year disrupted by the COVID pandemic. Jones is a big reason why the Blue Devils will be there, not just over the course of the season but in the NCAA tournament.

In Saturday’s game against Arizona State in Greenville on Saturday, the Sun Devils had a corner kick in the second overtime with the score tied 1-1. Duke’s defense is a veteran group -- three seniors and a junior -- but it isn’t a big one, and Arizona State tried to outmuscle the Blue Devils with the game hanging in the balance.

“They put three players on top of Ruthie and they served it right at her,” Duke coach Robby Church said in an interview. “She has to be big. She has to be strong. The first came in and went over the bar, and we thought it was a goal kick but they got another corner. They went back for it and served it in the box again. It was kind of a nervous time, because we have had some goals scored on some corners. But she went up and snatched it. She went up like a pro. And then she started our attack.”

Jones booted the ball upfield, where it bounced around a bit before Duke started a move that ended up with Sophie Jones scoring the winning goal to send the Blue Devils to Cary.

Taking over as starter

Ruthie Jones didn’t play much as a freshman, apprenticing behind an established starter, sophomore Brooke Heinsohn. But Heinsohn had knee surgery in January 2020 and played Duke’s fall opener but was clearly still not ready, Church said. Jones got the start in the second game, made some huge saves in a tie with Virginia and never looked back.

“I thought to myself, ‘Finally, this is my time to take the opportunity,’” Jones said. “I was so excited. I was nervous as hell but I was so excited to play. I felt a lot different from my freshman year. I was so prepared. My confidence has continued to grow throughout the season. Sometimes, experience on the field is a little underrated.”

She ended up playing all but two halves the rest of the way, and Heinsohn did not return for the spring season. It’s Jones’ net now, as she showed with the game hanging in the balance against Arizona State.

“The presence of her going up and getting that,” Church said, “just to say I’ve got that under control.”

Jones has two (and maybe three years) still to go at Duke, but with U.S. Soccer experience at the under-14 and under-16 level, Church said there’s no reason Jones can’t be an all-ACC player or an all-American. She may have a chance to follow her brother into professional sports, although that’s not a choice she has to make right away.

There are, to be sure, more pressing matters at the moment.

“We can talk all we want about how the year has been, how my journey has been, but all I’m focused on right now is winning on Wednesday,” Jones said. “Survive and advance. I’m excited about this team we have and I really think it’s going to be a good tournament for us. Hopefully that’s true.”

No. 9 Duke vs. Ole Miss

What: NCAA women’s soccer tournament third round

When: Noon, Wednesday

Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary

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