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LaVan steps down

Warren girls coach done after 268 wins

Warren girls basketball coach Lisa LaVan shares an embrace with her oldest daughter, Emma, after her final game in 2022. LaVan stepped down Tuesday after 16 years as the Dragons’ coach. Times Observer file photo

Sixteen years. Two hundred and sixty-eight wins. Four District 10 championships. This year, in Lisa LaVan’s final season as head coach of Warren’s girls basketball team, the Lady Dragons earned their first-ever PIAA playoff win — in overtime over Elizabeth Forward — to finish among the top 16 Class 4A teams in the state.

Those are only some of the plethora of big numbers surrounding LaVan, who announced Tuesday that she is stepping down as Warren Area High School girls basketball coach.

Since she took over in 2008, the program has won close to 70% of its games (268-122). In 2016, WAHS won its first D10 title, won it again in 2018, and went back-to-back in 2021 and 2022.

In 2021 at Warren Area High School, her eldest daughter, Emma Ruhlman, made all three free throws with no time on the clock to help the Dragons beat Slippery Rock 40-39 in one of her three D10 titles. Lisa’s middle daughter, Gracie Ruhlman, and youngest, Sammie Ruhlman, won two titles each with Sammie part of the only PIAA win in program history. Sammie will play college basketball like her big sis’ Emma.

“I have coached some amazing young ladies and it wasn’t just the 1,000-point scorers or the girls who played the most minutes,” said LaVan. “It was all the girls that stuck it out and made it work; not because they scored all the points or played all the minutes. It was because they were a part of something bigger than themselves. We were a tight family that stuck together to work towards common goals. No person was bigger than the other. We just had our roles and went to work.”

LaVan hugs daughter Gracie after her final game with the Dragons.

LaVan’s role wasn’t just as head coach.

“Peyton was lucky enough to have you as a role model and you blessed her with loving the game, but also teaching her it was more than the ball and the court,” said Peyton’s mother, Amanda Hagg.

“For my money, you rank as the greatest sports coach in Warren County history,” Michael Suppa posted on Facebook on Tuesday after LaVan’s announcement.

“My primary goal was to cultivate a family atmosphere where every young lady on my team felt cherished and empowered to embrace their true selves,” LaVan posted. “Little did I know the profound impact it would have on my life.

“Coaching my three daughters at the high school level has been an unparalleled blessing, as their love for the game mirrored my own,” she added. “As Emma continues her collegiate journey at Hillsdale (Michigan) and Sammie gears up to kickstart her playing career at D’Youville in the fall, I eagerly anticipate supporting Gracie in her fashion endeavors in NYC. With this in mind, it’s time to shift my focus to prioritize my family. To my three girls — Emma, Gracie and Sammie, thank you for your

LaVan hugs daughter Sammie after her final game with the Dragons.

unwavering support and understanding. Your willingness to share me with our basketball family has not gone unnoticed, and I am forever grateful for your sacrifices and encouragement.

“To my husband, Tim; your love and faith have been my rock on the toughest of days, and I couldn’t have navigated this journey without you by my side,” she added. “You truly love me for who I am. That alone deserves a special place in heaven.

“A heartfelt thank you to my parents, the epitome of unwavering support and

encouragement, and to my dear friend and coaching confidante, John White, whose steadfast presence has been a source of strength throughout the

years. To all my assistant coaches, past and present, your dedication and expertise have been instrumental in the success of our program. To my assistant, Jenny (Phillips), I know the program is in great hands — YOURS!

“And to my players — the heart and soul of this program, words cannot express the profound impact you’ve had on my life,” said LaVan. “As I reflect on our shared experiences, I am filled with pride and gratitude for the privilege of coaching each and every one of you. While I may not have always been the easiest coach to play for, I hope that I’ve instilled in you the importance of hard work, determination, and resilience. As I say goodbye to the sidelines and embark on a new chapter of my life, I do so with a sense of eager anticipation for the adventures that lie ahead. I hope to be back on the sideline someday when the time is right. Life is short. Enjoy the moments.”

LaVan called the day “surreal.”

“Really the last couple months have been,” she said. “Closing this chapter is bittersweet. Jeff White and Warren Area High School took a chance on me 16 years ago, and I am forever grateful.

“It was on my mind at the start of the season, but put it quickly out of my mind once we fully started as I did not want it to interfere in any way with our season,” added LaVan, whose Dragons finished 22-6. “Once the amazing ride we were in ended, I knew I had to decide. Jenny, John and I have been talking over the last couple months. Tim, the girls and I have had a few talks and I was able to make the decision to step away about a month ago. My girls wanted me to keep coaching in some ways. They know what it means to me, but I do know Emma has really missed me in the stands consistently over the last two years. They all said they would support me no matter what, but were hoping to see more of me as they all go their separate ways in college. I am ready to travel more to see them. Tim is my rock. He had the same thoughts as the girls. ‘I will support you know matter what you decide.’ He has such a level head and calms my emotions perfectly.

“I plan to travel and watch Emma and Sammie play some college ball,” said LaVan. “I am looking forward to being a spectator. I am also excited to visit my Gracie in NYC as she studies for her fashion degree at FIT. I also plan to referee as much as I can. So if you see me on the court, you better be on your best behavior. I will be back on the sideline again when the time is right. Time will tell. Coaches coach.

“I never do anything half-assed; it is who I am,” said LaVan. “It was a lot of hard work. Many, many sleepless nights. Coaching high school basketball demands relentless dedication, unwavering focus, and a steadfast commitment to nurturing not only athletes, but also individuals.

“16 years; if it’s not hard, it’s not worth it,” she said. “I will miss the practices. The preparation. The girls. The laughs. The hugs. The pure joy of being together.”

Not everything can be quantified.

“Best coach I’ve ever had in my life. I’m forever thankful for you,” said Warren senior Halle Kuzminski.

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