Coach of Champions: Ryan Coleman reflects on historic state CIF basketball title

Firehawks head coach talks one-on-one with Benjamin Gamson


BP Photo by Evan Beller

PINNACLE: Ryan Coleman started coaching Shalhevet’s girls varsity basketball team in 2019. He said that the girls state victory this year was the highest achievement of his career.

By Benjamin Gamson, Co-Editor-in-Chief

This year for the first time in Shalhevet history in any sport, the Firehawks’ girls basketball team won the California Interscholastic Federation’s state championship in Division 4.

They defeated San Domenico High School of San Anselmo 50-46 on March 10, in a game played in the NBA Golden 1 Center arena in Sacramento, home of the Sacramento Kings.

San Domenico had defeated Shalhevet in the same contest a year ago in the same arena in Division 5.

Shalhevet Head Boys and Girls Basketball Coach Ryan Coleman began coaching Shalhevet’s girl varsity basketball team in the fall of 2019.

Coach Coleman reflected on the victory, this year’s team, and the recognition they have received in a phone interview with Sports Editor and Co-Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Gamson on April 18. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


BP: What was different about this team this year that allowed them to be able to pull off the statewide victory?

Ryan Coleman: I think a lot of it has to do with the group of juniors, current juniors, just that incoming class three years ago, when they first came. They’re more dedicated to basketball, and have put more time in than any other girls class, certainly, probably as much as any boys class of players that I’ve had since I’ve coached at Shalhevet. So a lot of it has to do with just the extra time that they put in.


BP: The game itself against San Domenico was close throughout, and the Firehawks won by four points at the end. How was the team able to beat San Domenico?

RC: If you look at the stats from the game, which are mind-boggling, we really had no business winning.  They took more than twice as many field goal attempts as we did. And we turned the ball over at a very alarming rate. But our defensive execution of what our game plan was was pretty much flawless. And just the attention to detail that our game plan had was pretty meticulous. And then the girls really did exactly what we asked them to do. And fortunately, it worked out. So you know, I think it was — although like I said, the stats were definitely not in our favor — I think that the way that we executed in particular on defense was the difference in the end.


BP: What changed between this year and last year in terms of Shalhevet versus San Domenico? 

RC: If you just want a two-word answer, I’d say Yalee Schwartz. I think last year, it was kind of the opposite of what I was just saying. Last year, we had a game plan. Although I take a lot of the blame for last year’s loss — I don’t feel like I had scouted as well as I probably needed to. And this year, the familiarity with what they like to do and their personnel, I think allowed us to be a little bit more detailed in what our game plan was. So I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were familiar with this group. They brought pretty much everybody back from their team. And so did we. And so we were able to make adjustments and see what did and what did not work in the previous year.


BP: What does this mean for you personally? Where does this figure into the arc of your work as a high school basketball coach?

RC: Definitely the pinnacle of anything that I’ve done as a coach in high school or youth or club or anything. There’s no higher achievement that you can accomplish as a coach — although, you know, I would love to win the CIF sectional championship someday, which is also a huge goal of ours. This is definitely number one. My daughter even jokes that I removed the picture of my kids from my phone, and now there’s a picture of the trophy, because I told her, you know, I used to think that my kids were my biggest accomplishment and now I’ve done something bigger and better.
BP: The team has received a lot of recognition. Can you talk about some of the recognition the team has received?

RC: We did this CBS KCAL interview and got to go to City Hall, which was an amazing experience. And then I’ve spoken with the LA Sparks recently who reached out, who we’re going to organize, like a night to go to a Sparks game and possibly a practice and they want to throw our team up on the scoreboard during a game. So that’ll be really neat. And all the articles from newspapers and different social media outlets have been great. And then I don’t know, if you want me to get into like all the individual awards, but we’ve had a ton come in particular for Yalee.


BP: Which of these is one of them most meaningful to you in terms of the awards and recognition?

RC: Recognition wise, I would say the Daily News recognized a couple of members of the team and myself as award winners in the area, not only for our division, but for all divisions, which I was kind of shocked about, and received a ton of congratulations from my peers. And I’m sure Yalee had the same for her award that she won. So I think that was pretty neat. And then also, Yalee was recognized as a John Wooden award winner, and anybody that knows the history of basketball knows how special that is. Anything that has the name John Wooden on it is a pretty neat award to receive.


BP: Is there anything else you would like to say about the girls?

RC: Our fan base, and the school and the administration in particular, and how they handle all these things that are super last-minute when it gets to the state playoffs, because it’s really, it’s a sprint, and there’s not a lot of turnaround time. But our fans, our administration, and the whole community support has been amazing, and we certainly could not have done it without everybody.