Warren's Alana Stuart. File photo by Jared Bakaysa/JB Graphics.

Familiar Territory: Lady Dragons Back in PIAA Playoffs, set to Battle WPIAL Power Blackhawk

March 11, 2023

WARREN, Pa. – The Warren Lady Dragons are no strangers to postseason success, and, while they didn’t win a District 10 title this season, they will be making a return trip to the PIAA playoffs.

The Lady Dragons (18-7) knew they were going to be young this season with just one senior in Gracie Ruhlman.

With that, there were plenty of players stepping into new roles. And they have just continued to get better as the season goes on, which explains why they are still playing in March.

“Just to get 18 wins, I don’t want to say I didn’t think we could do it, but it wasn’t something we necessarily expected,” said Warren coach Lisa LaVan, the architect of one of D10’s top programs. “We knew it was going to be interesting, and it definitely has been. They’re excited. Any time you’re playing in March, it’s a great thing.”

They will be facing a Blackhawk (21-4) team that also has a rich history, having won two state championships under head coach Steve Lodovico. The Cougars advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals a year ago with an undefeated record before being knocked out by Villa (now Cathedral Prep).

Blackhawk advanced to the WPIAL title game before falling to North Catholic. Warren, meanwhile, beat Grove City in the D10 quarterfinals, lost to Harbor Creek in the semifinals, and bounced back to beat Conneaut for a third time this season in the third-place game.

It’s a Warren team that challenged itself with a tough early schedule against the likes of Punxsutawney, Southwestern, Erie High, Cathedral Prep, and McDowell. There were some growing pains along the way, but they have paid dividends

“I think the girls wish we had some of those games now,” LaVan said. “We’ve improved immensely since then.”

Juniors Sammie Ruhlman and Halle Kuzminski have gone from complimentary players to leading roles this season and both have stepped it up another notch in the postseason, including a 19-point performance from Kuzminski in the third-place win over CASH.

“Going from that 3-4 role to 1-2, that’s not going to happen overnight,” LaVan said. “Everyone was stepping into new roles.”

That also includes an influx of talented freshmen like Peyton Wotorson and Meea Irwin, as well as talented sophomores including Alana Stuart, Alyssa Farr, and Emily Davidson.

It was new in many ways for a Warren program that was used to having the likes of Emma Ruhlman and Riley Childress the last four years, as well as 1,000-point scorers Margo Loutzenhiser and going back to their first D10 title, DJ Hahn and Paige Wilson.

“It’s been so much fun to watch them develop,” LaVan said. “John (assistant coach John White) said these are the kind of seasons you live for because it’s brand new.”

They will be facing a Blackhawk team that loves to push the tempo, led by the likes of Kassie Potts, Alena Fusetti (team-leading 17 points per game), and Piper Romigh.

Blackhawk is without the services of senior standout Quinn Borroni, however, with the Mercyhurst commit lost late in the regular season with an injury.

The winner will face the winner of the Punxsutawney/Knoch game in the second round on Tuesday, March 14.

“They like to play uptempo and cause turnovers,” LaVan said. “We have to be strong with the ball and make good decisions.”

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