Repeat Performance

By ohiosportsticket.com

Ah, championships. In the world of high school sports, there is nothing like them; the exuberance of celebrating on center floor, knowing your team has just finished in a position that no other team can claim, and the thrill of leaping into your teammates' arms, rejoicing in a dream come true, knowing all of that hard work, patience and commitment to perfection has paid off.

The Hiland Lady Hawks experienced that in 2017, winning the Div. IV state title, having won the state semifinal game against Ottoville with an improbable comeback that culminated in a Kennedy Schlabach 3-pointer at the buzzer, a shot that set up an almost anticlimactic 61-41 state championship win over Waterford to cap off a 29-1 season.

However, with every state title comes a new challenge. Having to deal with the pressure to repeat is difficult enough for a team that has the expectation that it will battle for a state championship every single season under head coach Dave Schlabach.

With a girls basketball OHSAA-record 15 state appearances, a number that includes five state titles and five runner-up trophies, Hiland has been a juggernaut under Dave Schlabach's 25-year reign.

"Repeating is not something that we really ever talk about because each year is different," Dave Schlabach said. "The most important thing about coming off a championship season is that our system remains the same. We take the same approach every year, whether we win a title or not. I think that to deal with the pressure of a championship year, you have to have that system in place because it does alleviate some of the pressure on the kids because they are simply working on what we have put in place for them to get better."

The veteran head coach knows better than anyone that repeating is a slippery slope, fraught with dangers that seem to lurk around every corner.

The first setback occurred in this off-season when senior star forward Morgan McMillen suffered what could possibly be a season-ending knee injury.

The second is replacing Div. IV Player of the Year Angela Troyer, who graduated as one of an illustrious program's all-time greats, along with several other key components that added to the team's depth.

In place of those girls step a half-dozen freshman who have never lost a game. They are talented. they are expected to contribute, but at the same time they haven't achieved anything yet on the varsity level.

"The nice thing is we don't have to sell the system to these kids because they understand what we want to accomplish and how we work," Dave Schlabach said. "They know that if they are committed and willing to work hard, they go down the same path as many of these teams before them. With so many youngsters in place to play key roles and with Morgan getting hurt in our last summer game, we really have no idea what we have."

Dealing with the pressure of matching last year's incredible run to a championship will always be in the back of this team's mind, and adding to that pressure will be dealing with the bump up in divisions.

This year the Lady Hawks will face a larger mountain in having to wade through the Div. III tournament, a road that will eventually lead them to extremely difficult matchups with state powerhouses Gilmour Academy and Africentric.

"Div. III is a whole new beast," Dave Schlabach said. "Our district will now include Garaway, Buckeye Trail, Tusky Valley and a host of other talented teams. Across the state there are just more athletic teams, so we know that will add to the challenges that lie ahead."

Finally there is the knowledge that every single opponent is out to make their mark against the Lady Hawks. That is one challenge Dave Schlabach actually cherishes becasue he wants his kids to feel that kind of pressure in the regular season.

"This is the toughest schedule we have ever put together," Dave Schlabach said. "We hav six Div. I schools on our schedule, and we play West Holmes. Plus the IVC got a lot better this year with the addition of some good schools. With that in place, we are better off not even thinking about repeating but instead turning our attention to just improving every single day and allowing the system to work."

The road to a repeat is indeed littered with pitfalls and challenges. And as has always been the case, everyone outside of East Holmes would like nothing more than to see the top dog go down, so the Lady Hawks know they have their work cut out for them. There will be no free passes, and nobody will shed a tear should they falter.