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Sister Act

Coach LaVan, three daughters look to do big things for Warren

Submitted Photo Pictured, from left, are Ruhlman sisters Emma, Sammie and Gracie with their mother and Warren girls basketball coach Lisa LaVan.

With Thanksgiving falling smack dab at the start of the high school basketball season, Warren Area High School girls basketball coach Lisa LaVan has a lot for which to be thankful. Those who know her know how much passion she puts into coaching her team, but 2020 is just a little more blessed.

All three of her daughters are now a part of her high school team. There is junior Emma Ruhlman, who already has a District 10 title under her belt when she was a freshman; sophomore Gracie Ruhlman, who gained valuable varsity experience last season on a playoff team; and newcomer and little sister in freshman Sammie Ruhlman. They are an athletic family used to frequent road trips with mom or their father, Jason Ruhlman, a Sheffield High School graduate.

“I do have all three now. Crazy,” said LaVan. “Basketball has always been in our lives. I never forced them to play, but always encouraged. I tell them all the time, ‘find something you love to do and be passionate about it.’

“They all love hoops in some way, and definitely in varying degrees,” added LaVan, who really views all her players as family. “It is a bond we share for sure. It makes me very proud to see the young ladies they have become and basketball is just one thing about them that makes me proud of them.”

Emma is a 5-foot-10 returning all-state guard who eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball … and family.

Submitted Photo Pictured, from left, are: Emma Ruhlman, now a junior; Sammie Ruhlman, now a freshman; and Gracie Ruhlman, now a sophomore.

“Playing with my sisters is a really cool experience,” said Emma. “We’re super close in age so we’ve always been pretty close with each other. The three of us grew up in the program, watching my mom and her teams as the years have gone on. I can remember the three of us going to practices all the time and shooting together on the sideline or making up our own ball-handling drills and everything. We have our differences for sure. I’m a little more into basketball than my sisters and I work at it a lot and want to play at the highest level possible. They work at it, but they don’t want to go off and play Division I ball, which is totally cool because they each have their own dreams and aspirations. We definitely get into it sometimes because I want them to put all the time in that I do. However, I’ve learned to accept that over time and I know that when I step out on the court with them, they’re giving all they got and they love being there. I think deep down they do work as hard as they can because they want to help me and our team win. I love them so much, and while we fight and bicker like all siblings, I will cherish the next two years I have with them. Being not only sisters, but also teammates, brings us together a lot. They’re my best friends. We all goof around a lot together.

“Sammie is literally the funniest person I’ve ever met and always knows how to get Gracie and I going,” said Emma.

“Mom sometimes doesn’t appreciate that because we get going and can probably be pretty annoying, haha,” Emma added. “Gracie and I butt heads a little bit more since we’re so close in age, but we talk a lot and I know she’s someone I can always go to for advice and help because she can be pretty mature. However, when her and Sam are together, I swear their maturity level goes down to that of a 6-year-old, haha. And my mom can definitely attest to that.”

Sounds like mom and coach has her hands full.

“Emma — she is a player and is a great scoring threat for us,” LaVan said of the oldest daughter, who averaged nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds a game as a sophomore. “She can defend any position on the court and is just so versatile. She is a great leader. She leads by example and does a phenomenal job of pushing her teammates. Her work ethic is top-notch. She has been a sponge in our program since day one. She was 4 years old when I took over and grew up admiring so many great Lady Dragons. I remember how upset she was when I couldn’t take her to practice. This is life full-circle … those past Lady Dragons have loved seeing Emma grow up.”

Submitted Photo Warren girls basketball coach Lisa LaVan, far left, now has three daughters in the program: sophomore Gracie, second from left; junior Emma, third from left; and freshman Sammie, far right.

Emma has aspirations to play big-time college basketball. Her mom was a standout at Bradford High School and later at NCAA DIII Penn State-Behrend.

“Gracie — she has worked this offseason to become more of a post player for us,” said LaVan. “She wasn’t thrilled about it at first, but is really liking it now. She has great length and just a natural flow close to the hoop. She had to step into a varsity role last year that she wasn’t quite ready for, however, she did what we needed her to do. She is ready for a different, bigger role this year. She is just a laid-back kid just working to get by; she wants to be her own person and does a great job doing it. I love her spirit and ability to have fun no matter what.

“Sammie — AKA, the ‘nugget.’ She grew 6¢ inches in two years and she is no longer a nugget,” said mom. “She has always been a point guard because of her size, then she grew. She has some good handles and great court vision. She is a pass-first point guard. She shoots the ‘3’ well for a freshman and will be a good asset for us. She will work a lot of JV games to get some valuable experience and will hopefully keep working to fold into varsity. Sammie is our entertainment on the daily. She is a goofy kid and is always ready to joke around. She also has great dance moves.”

As competitive as LaVan is and sports can be in general, coach and mom are trying hard to enjoy this time.

“I hope and pray we have a season,” said LaVan. “This is time I can never get back with them.”

On or off the court, family time is important.

“My sisters and I do everything together, and we have great parents who have taught us to get along and always love each other,” said Emma. “Playing ball with them is an extra bonus that makes my high school experience that much sweeter.

“Playing for my mom is a super-cool experience and one that I’m very blessed to have,” said Emma. “My mom and I have always been super close and playing basketball for her has brought us even closer. We both love the game a lot (maybe a little obsessed, haha) and she does so much for me from staying late to get shots up, driving me to AAU games and showcases, and always being there for me. Playing for her, like anything, has its ups and downs. Being my mom, she’s super hard on me and I’m held to a very high standard in practices and games, but I love it and in doing so and always pushing me, she has helped me become the player I am today. I love my family so much and they are so important to me. It’s very special that I get to share my passion of basketball with them. They’re my biggest supports and I want to make them all proud.”

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