Basketball is in Emma Ruhlman’s blood.
The senior at Warren Area High School has been around the game nearly her entire life, with her mom, Lisa LaVan, the highly successful head coach of the Warren Lady Dragons. Emma has been a huge part of the Lady Dragons District 10 titles in both 2019 and 2021, her sophomore and junior seasons, eclipsing 1,000 points a year ago.
Late this summer, she made the call to continue her academic and athletic careers at Hillsdale College in Michigan.
“Fulfilling my dream to play college basketball is so rewarding and I am so excited,” Ruhlman said. “I worked very hard and sacrificed a lot and being able to play at the next level is such a great blessing.”
And it’s something she’s known she’s wanted to do for quite some time.
“I realized I wanted to play basketball from a very young age,” she said. “I’ve watched my mom coach since I was about four years old. It was around fifth or sixth grade though that I realized I wanted to play college ball. DJ Hahn, who went to play at Cal U, was my biggest role model at the time. DJ was my mom’s first player who went to college to play and I wanted to do the same. I also just love the game so much, I want to play it as long as I can, and I’ve always known that.”
Ruhlman has put in the time to make that dream a reality, spending countless hours in the gym. But it’s the grind that she loves, and her passion for the game is evident every time she steps on the floor.”
“The part I enjoy most about the game is the energy of it,” she said. “ It’s so fast-paced and high intensity. I also love that I can see all the work I put in to translate into how I do in games and stuff like that. I also love how this game has taken me around the country and introduced me to so many people.”
Those trips around the country came with the Western PA Bruins AAU program. It required plenty of long trips to practice, but it’s a sacrifice both Ruhlman and her family were willing to make.
And she doesn’t have to look far for her inspiration.
“My biggest influence has been my mom,” Ruhlman said. “ She’s my coach and the one who got me into basketball. I’m so thankful for all she has done for me.”
And of course, there are those that came before her in the Warren program as well.
“All of my mom’s past players have been great influences to me, but DJ Hahn and Margo Loutzenhiser have been the greatest and most prominent. I looked up to DJ as I was first getting super dedicated to basketball. I looked up to Margo when I was a freshman. I have her and DJ to thank for all I have learned on how to lead by example and to outwork everyone all the time.”
Hahn had a successful career at Cal, and Loutzenhiser is doing the same at Gannon. Both went through the recruiting process, just like Ruhlman did, and she admits that it was a bit of a grind, especially during COVID.
“In all honesty, the recruiting process was very stressful, especially when it took place during a pandemic,” Ruhlman said. “I talked to a lot of coaches at all levels, D1, D2, and D3, and making a decision was very hard. I wanted to play for a good program, and I wanted to get the best education possible. Hillsdale has the best of both worlds. They are one of the highest academic division two schools in the country, and they have a new coach (Charlie Averkamp) who has really good plans for their program. The campus is perfect for me, small and in a college town, and the people there are great.”
One of her soon-to-be assistant coaches, Brianna Brennan, also has local ties, having a standout career at Gannon herself.
Ruhlman is an excellent student and very academically motivated, having high aspirations in the classroom.
“I plan to major in biochemistry and then go into biomedical research, or maybe medical school,” she said. “I love science and I really want to be in a field of study where I can help people. Where better to do that than in the medical field!”
And she can’t wait to get to Hillsdale.
“In college, I’m most looking forward to challenging myself with my classes and meeting new people,” she said. “I’m also super excited to help rebuild their basketball program and have an impact as soon as possible.”
Of course, her senior season is still on the horizon, and the Lady Dragons have big goals. Along with her senior teammate, Riley Childress, who will continue her academic and basketball career at Roberts Wesleyan, and the rest of her teammates, they are seeking the program’s third D10 title in four years.
“My biggest goal this season is to win another District 10 title. I know we have all the parts and are very capable,” Ruhlman said. “Riley and I are excited to lead our team and end our high school careers on a high note. It’s crazy that I only have one more year, and I want to just leave everything I have on the court this season. I owe it to my team, my mom, my coaches, and this program to do so. I just want to have fun playing basketball with my best friends, and win a lot of games .”