Dragons visit big places on basketball journey

There’s a big world out there.

Warren Area High School’s girls basketball team had another chance to check it out this summer, traveling to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, for a basketball camp. In other summers, the Lady Dragons have visited Boston College, Robert Morris, Albright, and even traveled as far as North Carolina.

The entire team goes, paid for by the players’ families, players’ fund-raisers and boosters, and this year’s prospective group stayed two nights in a hotel and two in dorms at Notre Dame.

It’s a cool experience, according to Warren head coach Lisa Ruhlman. And a worthwhile one.

The point is, to make the girls face adversity – scrimmage bigger schools and play more than they have all summer.

There’s a method to the madness.

The players have time to grow together as a team.

They get to share an awesome backdrop.

For one, how many people have the option to go to Sunday Mass at Notre Dame?

“As a Catholic, it was kind of a neat thing to do,” said Ruhlman.

The 10-game trip started at a “Cathedral” of a high school – East Central High School in St. Leon, Ind.

“Their weight room was the size of our gym,” said Ruhlman.

In a commute from Cincinnati, Ohio, East Central has six gymnasiums and “volleyball nets lowered from the ceiling,” she said.

That was the start of the “big” adventure.

In a “Shootout,” Warren played three games there on Friday against bigger schools.

“In fact, we played against a school twice the size of McDowell,” said Ruhlman.

“We played 10 varsity games on the trip and every single one was against a school bigger than us,” she said. “I wanted them to see where they needed to be.”

Even the junior varsity was able to play four games on the trip.

The Lady Dragons were going to have to “figure it out,” she said, which was the point of the trip.

But the bonding wasn’t all games, but some fun.

They Dragons drove an hour and a half to Indianapolis, Ind., to see the Indiana Fever of the WNBA play. The players got to meet Penn State graduate Maggie Lucas and Fever teammate and University of Tennessee star Tamika Catchings.

They got to see Brittany Griner play up close.

She’s tall.

“You didn’t tell me Diana Taurasi played for the Mercury,” Ruhlman said junior D.J. Hahn told her, wide-eyed and awe-struck.

From that big moment, the Dragons drove to Notre Dame.

“I don’t even know what the scores were of these games,” said Ruhlman. “The talent level was good… we’re a bigger team, and we went there and we weren’t the bigger team.

“It was nice to play that level of competition,” she said. “The summer always sets the foundation for what we can work on. When you play 10 games in a four-day span, you see improvement. Oh, and by the way, you play your first game through 10th game completely different because you’re exhausted by the 10 th game, and that’s when your weaknesses show. It builds your character; it builds you as a player. We had a lot of ice on the trip home.”

Every single year in high school, you are building a new team. This traveling group included two incoming seniors, five juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen – with a couple who could not attend.

Ruhlman said it allows the girls to, not only get to know each other better – because many already know each other well, but to gel together.

From time in the vans, and on the basketball court, to visiting Touchdown Jesus together.

“I loved being able to go to the WNBA game and watch Brittany Griner and Maggie Lucas,” said junior Paige Wilson. “I also loved spending time with my teammates and coaches. It was cool to have some of the Notre Dame players and coaches running the scoreboard and keeping the time. Playing very good teams I think made us better and we learned a lot from playing them. The trip was awesome!”

“We have to learn how to mesh and work together,” said senior Ashlee McClure, “even if that means sing songs (in the vans), tell stories and make each other laugh. It’s like a new team each year. I remember being a freshman and how hard it was… I think we’re good together. I liked playing the games and seeing how we progressed.”