Ruhlman is headed to DII Hillsdale College
Emma Ruhlman is so much more than just a basketball player.
That says an awful lot, considering Ruhlman is a two-time all-state basketball player. As a junior, she led Warren Area High School to its second District 10 championship in three seasons. She was named co-Region 6 Player of the Year in 2020-2021, averaging 14.7 points per game with 35 3-pointers to go along with 10 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.5 steals a game. She surpassed 1,000 career points with her senior season still to go.
Some of this went into her decision to commit to play for Division II Hillsdale College in Michigan.
“A lot of people know Emma the basketball player,” said Warren coach Lisa LaVan, and Emma’s mom. “She is a 1,000-point scorer, a true competitor, a great leader, and hard worker. Many don’t know how high she is academically and also how strong her moral faith is. Hillsdale was the perfect fit for everything — basketball, academics, and faith.”
It’s clear her mother and coach, and teammates — including two younger sisters, Grace and Sammie — have faith in her. She’s earned it.
Trailing Slippery Rock, 39-37, Ruhlman was fouled on a 3-point attempt with no time on the clock and a District 10 title on the line. She sank all three free throws and was mobbed on the floor in a 40-39 D10 5A victory.
If that fairy-tale ending wasn’t enough, Ruhlman has been dreaming of playing college basketball for a long time.
“It has been a long, exciting and exhausting journey full of highs and lows,” said LaVan. “The 2022 class has been hit the hardest with recruiting.
“Back in October, because of COVID, every NCAA athlete in women’s basketball — along with all fall and winter sports — was given an extra year of eligibility from D1 to D3, meaning, last year’s freshmen can be freshmen again this year and so on. If your home school didn’t want to take you for another year, the transfer portal would and another school would take you. It changed the whole landscape of recruiting with so many scholarships now gone to the extra year of eligibility.”
But Emma’s done pretty much everything she could possibly do to make this dream a reality.
“Emma started her journey back in 2018 when she joined the WPA Bruins (AAU basketball team),” said LaVan. “On September 1 of last year, when D1s could start personally reaching out, Emma started talking to more than 10 different D1 programs. It was an exciting time and, as things progressed for Emma, it became more about the best academic fit, along with somewhere she could play basketball in a great program. In total, she was talking with 25 or more D1, D2, and D3 coaches. It was a lot of phone calls and text messaging. By the summer of 2021, she narrowed her search down to a couple Ivy League schools and some other strong academic institutions. She visited Hillsdale on August 11th, and immediately fell in love. She had been talking to the coaches for a while and was finally able to visit after a busy July for AAU. The coaches were wonderful and she was able to sit down with admissions to discuss more about their academics. It is a very competitive and a spiritually-strong school… just what she was looking for. The coaches offered her a scholarship and here we are.”
A weight off Emma’s shoulders before her senior high school season.
“I still have some time before I have to get too worried about college, so right now I’m just so excited,” said Ruhlman. “I have worked so hard for this and it is all coming together. It’s a really great feeling to accomplish this goal that I’ve had since I was little, to go play college ball.
“I am super excited for my senior year,” added Ruhlman. “I know that we have a chance to be a very good team. My goal is to win my third District 10 title. I scored my 1,000th point and picked a college, so I have those milestones figured out. All I have to worry about this year is playing hard and having fun. All my focus is on getting my team to that championship game and bringing home the metal again.
“At Hillsdale, I want to come in and work hard to make an impact,” she said. “They have a new coach (Charlie Averkamp) who has great plans for the program, so being able to help him and my new teammates build up that program will be awesome.”
The Great Midwest Athletic Conference calls.
“Hillsdale actually came into my radar pretty late in the process,” said Ruhlman. “Coach Bri (assistant coach Brianna Brennan) contacted me in July and we talked on the phone a few times and then I visited in August. After the visit, I had a great feeling about it, but knew I had a tough decision to make between them and other schools. After a few weeks of research, talking to my family, and personal reflection, I knew that Hillsdale was the best fit for me.
“In a college, I have always been looking for a high academic school,” said Ruhlman, daughter of Sheffield High School graduate Jason Ruhlman. “I take school very seriously and I want to go on to graduate school after undergrad so I knew I needed a school that would set me up for that. In a team, I was looking for a family atmosphere full of like-minded people. On my visit, I got to meet two of the players and talk with them one-on-one, which was awesome and they were the nicest and coolest people ever. They gave me their numbers and told me to call or text if I needed anything or had any more questions about Hillsdale. After I committed, a bunch of Hillsdale’s current players contacted me to congratulate me and gave me their ‘socials.’ I already feel a part of the family and I haven’t even met them all in person yet.”
What seemed like a difficult decision became an easy choice.
“When I narrowed it down to my top schools, it was a hard choice at first,” said Ruhlman. “It never really occurred to me that I actually had to pick a college. I was so used to just grinding it out on my recruiting journey, it was weird that it was coming to an end. I talked to my parents and other family members and close friends about it, but no one really gave me their input. They just allowed me to bounce my own thoughts off of them. It’s my future, so it was my decision to make and their listening helped me make it.
“The campus is about 5.5 hours from Warren, which isn’t super far, but far enough,” said Ruhlman. “It’s about an hour north of Toledo, so not too snowy. It’s a small campus, and a liberal arts school. It’s one of the top Division 2 schools academically in the country, which is super cool.
“I am so happy about my decision,” she added. “And I am so grateful to my family, friends, coaches, and teammates for making this possible. I’m so thankful for my mom, and high school coach, for doing everything she has done for me. Everyone in my life deserves a thank you, and I could go on and on about that, but my mom has been the one to take me to AAU, coach me in high school basketball, take me on my visits, and I know she sacrificed a lot to do so. I love her a lot for that, and I know she is so happy about my decision, too.”