After Championship win, three coaches are leaving at once to take head coach positions elsewhere
May 29, 2023
Six weeks after the Firehawks varsity girls team won the CIF Division IV state basketball championship, three out of the four coaches have announced their departure from Shalhevet to take head coaching jobs with women’s teams at other schools.
Coaches Andrew Schultz, Adam Plax and Jena Laolagi are leaving Shalhevet High School for new jobs beginning next fall, making Head Coach Ryan Coleman the only basketball coach left at Shalhevet.
When you win at any level… generally other schools or organizations are going to look to see if they can grab somebody from a winning program and see if they can carry that over to their programs.
— Ryan Coleman, Firehawks head Coach
Coach Schultz, who at eight years has been Firehawk assistant coach the longest and also coached the boys teams, will be head girls basketball coach at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills.
Coach Plax, after four years at Shalhevet also coaching girls and boys teams, will be head coach and assistant athletic director at Notre Dame Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in Rancho Park.
Coach Laolagi, who has been at Shalhevet for one year as an assistant coach for the girls team, will lead basketball at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, which Coach Schultz described as “a powerhouse in all sports in Southern California.” Notre Dame High is in the Mission league, consisting of six teams, including the fourth-ranked girls basketball team in the country, Sierra Canyon.
“When you win at any level – you see that in professional sports, in college sports and in high school – generally other schools or organizations are going to look to see if they can grab somebody from a winning program and see if they can carry that over to their programs,” Coach Coleman said.
Coach Coleman said the three coaches’ simultaneous departures would be a challenge the Firehawk teams would need to meet.
“Everybody has a coach, or sometimes coaches, that they connect better with,” Coach Coleman said in an interview this week. “That will be something that we’ll have to adjust to as we move forward.”
He said he is currently speaking to potential new coaches but would probably not replace all three.
“I don’t think that we would ever have four coaches contributing to one team again,” said Coach Coleman. “We’ll hopefully have somebody who can assist me with both the varsity girls and boys teams, and then we’ll need separately a JV coach for boys and there is likely going to be a JV girls team next year, so we may need a coach for that as well.”
According to Coach Coleman – more commonly known at school as Ryan – the reason for three coach departures at once is increased interest in them after winning the CIF state championship. But he said Coach Laolagi was bound to have earned her new position even without it, he said.
He said Coach Laolagi was initially brought to Shalhevet to ease Coach Coleman’s then-planned transition from Shalhevet to Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, which was canceled at the last minute in June 2022 for “personal reasons,” Coach Coleman said.
A lot of other programs have five, six, seven, eight coaches… In the beginning with Ryan we would just do it by ourselves. We would laugh at other teams that had so many cooks in the kitchen.
— Coach Andrew Schultz
If his move to Flatbush had not been canceled, the plan was for her to have taken over as head coach for the Firehawk girls team, he said, so she was an assistant coach for them this year.
Coach Laolagi agreed that the demand for the three coaches was high, considering Shalhevet is the first Orthodox school to win a State CIF Championship.
“That was obviously a huge accomplishment and something historic,” Coach Laolagi said. “That hasn’t happened before, with an Orthodox Jewish team winning the final.”
While the Firehawks had four coaches this year, Coach Schultz described it as an unfamiliar environment and an ironic situation for him and Coach Coleman – especially considering that for his first four years it had been just the two of them.
“It was just going to be Ryan,” said Coach Schultz, who simultaneously has been working fulltime as a sixth grade math and science teacher at Hale Middle School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I told him that I’m going to join, and then it snowballed from there,” Coach Schultz said. “A lot of other programs have five, six, seven, eight coaches. And I’m not exaggerating, it almost seems like every player on the team has their own coach. In the beginning with Ryan we would just do it by ourselves. We would laugh at other teams that had so many cooks in the kitchen.”
Along the way, he said, after not originally buying into Shalhevet’s Jewish aspect, Coach Schultz said he gradually learned that it was more than a basketball game, and said he would miss the intimacy and camaraderie of the Jewish community.
“When the girls were making their run, and I looked in the stands, I’d see parents of our boys players supporting those games,” Coach Schultz said. “That was like, ‘Okay, we’re all one big community, and it actually means something when we say ‘family’ in huddles.”
Similarly, he said his most accomplished moment was winning what he called “the big, giant” California state championship, but that relationships he built at Shalhevet were more important to him than any win.
“Some of the relationships and bonds that I got to develop and maintain in the past eight years are bigger to me than winning and losing any kind of championship,” Coach Schultz said.
Coach Plax started in 2019 as the boys JV head coach and later became the assistant coach for the Varsity boys and girls teams. This year, he also was head coach of the boys junior varsity and freshman teams, and associate head coach for both the girls and boys varsity teams.
Coach Plax said he played various roles including game planning, scouting, watching film of past Firehawk and opponents’ games and preparing for particular opponents.
“I also tried to be that coach that was extremely encouraging, and focused on building confidence,” Coach Plax said, “because the role of a head coach is sometimes you have to be really tough on certain players.”
To Coach Plax, all four coaches for the girls team and all three for the boys were necessary and contributed to this season’s wins, because the players are the ones who were in and winning the games.
“At the end of the day, it’s the players that do the work, and we just guide them as coaches,” said Coach Plax. “But to be able to have four coaches, who all play key roles to the team, definitely helped us be more successful this year.”
Coach Plax said he learned two particular lessons from his time coaching at Shalhevet: to be more patient and to take the time to learn.
“I was pretty eager to become a head coach, early on,” said Coach Plax. “Looking back at it now, I realize I wasn’t really ready two, three years ago. But I do feel confident now that I’m ready, and I’m appreciative of the years I had learning under Ryan and Schultz and learning from the students within the program.”
I also tried to be that coach that was extremely encouraging, and focused on building confidence. Because the role of a head coach is sometimes you have to be really tough on certain players.
— Coach Adam Plax
He said he’d tell his successor, who he expects to be motivated and new to coaching as he was, to have the patience and willingness to learn that he lacked at the beginning, and also to understand that the coaching role is for the benefit of the students so it is crucial to have good intentions.
“I learned a lot about myself,” he said. “I matured a lot as a coach. Being able to stay patient and continue to want to learn was really important for me from the basketball perspective.”
Coach Plax said he also learned more about the Jewish community.
“We live in a world that, you know, Jewish people sometimes receive a lot of hatred,” said Coach Plax. “And so to be able to come together and support this up and coming generation as they grow up through these times was pretty special to me.”
Despite Coach Laolagi described winning the state championships as a great feeling, but said the journey to get there with the girls team was more important to her.
She said she’d miss the girls and hopes to be around as much as possible and stay in contact with them.
“I hope that no matter what, I’m going to be a friend of the program,” said Coach Laolagi of Firehawk basketball. “That’s something I can say for certain. I hope next year even though I’ll have my own program, I want to be around as much as possible for the team. Because they’ve made such a huge impact on my life as well.”
She said that apart from how to coach more effectively, Coach Laolagi began to understand a deeper sense of community, and that merely the atmosphere around a basketball game can make the game very exciting.
“Going to the Glouberman that first time, when I was just a fan in the stands – the way the community showed up, and showed out,” said Coach Laolagi. “Yes, they showed up in numbers. But they also showed out in a sense of their energy.”
She especially recalled this year’s game played at 10:30 p.m.
“For as many people to show up at that time, and also have that kind of energy for a basketball game, was super fun and exciting to me,” said Coach Laolagi.