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Lady Dragons set for semifinal clash with Grove City

Warren senior Taylor Childress (1) and head coach Lisa LaVan talk during the second half of Saturday’s District 10 quarterfinal win over Meadville.

For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Warren Lady Dragons will be playing in the District 10 semifinals.

Their opponent tonight (Oil City High School, 6 p.m.), the Grove City Eagles, have a bit of a different story. Their 45-27 quarterfinal win over General McLane marked the program’s first playoff victory since 2002.

“We’ve scrimmaged them, so we know very well what they’re like,” said Warren coach Lisa LaVan. “They have two very good players, juniors that can really play the game. They have a nice 6-foot kid. They’ve been coming along. It’s the best season they’ve had in a long time and they have the wins to show that they are capable.”

The two players LaVan referred to for the 20-3 Eagles are 5-8 Becca Santom (17.0 ppg) and 5-9 Clara Hannon (12.5 ppg.). The 6-0 footer is senior Katie McDowell (6.5 ppg.). Emma Santom (4.2 ppg.) and Kenzie Haggart (2.5 ppg.) round out the starting five.

Santom and Hannon are obviously the driving forces behind their success, but it’s taken a group effort to get them to have the kind of success the program hasn’t seen in years.

“They execute very well on offense and they play very good half-court defense,” noted LaVan. “They’re an old-school type of team. They run a great motion offense and play hard-nosed man-to-man defense. Chris Burtch is a very good coach. He’s been there a while and has helped that program a ton.”

Warren has two standouts of their own in sophomores Emma Ruhlman and Riley Childress. Both were terrific in their quarterfinal drubbing over Meadville, with Ruhlman nearly recording a triple-double.

Not only are they asked to do a lot offensively, but they also almost always get the assignment of the opposing teams’ top offensive players, and that isn’t an accident.

“The two of them have grown by leaps and bounds,” LaVan said. “They got the talk before the playoffs that they’re not sophomores anymore.”

This is a complete team, however, and that was on full display in their playoff opener.

Taylor Childress, the team’s lone senior, as well as Gracie Ruhlman, Kelsey Stuart and Carly Beers all knocked down key shots in the win over Meadville.

Junior Teagan Paris was terrific both defensively and on the boards, and has been all season. She often has to guard players who have a height advantage against her in the post, but has a bulldog mentality and doesn’t back down from anyone.

“I think that they have gotten to that point where everybody knows where they are and what they’re supposed to do,” LaVan said.

“Because at the end of the day, it’s about winning games, and that’s what this group cares about. Just like our other teams before them.”

Grove City’s best wins this season have come against Erie, Greenville, Hickory and Farrell. Their three losses are to Slippery Rock (twice), who edged them for the Region 5 title, as well as McDowell.

Warren has played a very difficult schedule, including but not limited to Villa (twice), Mercyhurst Prep (twice), Erie, McDowell, Greenville, Farrell, Maplewood and St. Marys, among others.

It’s that constant caliber of competition, among a number of factors, that has them battle-tested and ready come playoff time.

“Our schedule definitely prepares us for these games,” LaVan said. “The tougher the schedule, the better.”

And to be sure, they will have a game plan to combat a talented Grove City team.

“We focus a lot on personnel,” LaVan said. “We’re going to go in with a game plan that is different than what we’ve run all season. It’s playoff time. You have to work hard as a coach and push a lot of buttons. I’m excited about it.”

The winner will get the Slippery Rock-Harbor Creek winner, which will follow their game at Oil City, for the District 10 title on Saturday.

The two losers will meet in the third-place game and the final state playoff entry.

For Warren, a win would mean they would be in the District 10 title game for the third time in the last five seasons. With that success has also come respect.

“It’s a good thing,” LaVan said. “Hopefully that continues and we can get back there. It’s nice to be in Oil City, which we haven’t been there before. Like I told the girls, that’s a great site for us. It’s close. It’s the closest I think Warren has ever been for a playoff game and I think that speaks to the success that we’ve had.”

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