Lady Hawks' 'D' an overshadowed gem in another fantastic season


When it comes to scoring for the Hiland Lady Hawks, it is almost a “who’s who” of talent. Head coach Dave Schlabach could get 20 points on any given evening from Zoe Miller, Morgan Yoder, Kyli Horn or Brynn Mullet. Kendra Shetler, Kelsey Swihart and Aila Miller are good for eight to 10.

On most teams, players like Jenna Troyer and Krista Troyer would be averaging double figures, perhaps even Shelby Miller, but because this Hiland team is 10-deep, they are relegated to role players, which they do willingly.

There is no doubt the Lady Hawks can score points at an alarming rate.

However good they are offensively, the Lady Hawks are perhaps even more dangerous defensively, and that is something that often gets overlooked amidst the huge scoring potential.

“We are getting nice contributions from a lot of people,” said Schlabach, who has built this program into a state power in his 29 years as head coach. “This team is going to set the school record for best defensive average, and that includes in the 1970s when the game was slower and teams were scoring in the 20s. Plus we have a lot of possessions in our games, which means so do our opponents, but the kids have bought into the idea of playing defense, and we are seeing the results of that.”

In its sectional title game against Ridgewood, Hiland gave up a record-tying four points, pitching a second-half shut-out. When a talented and senior-laden Martin’s Ferry team came calling Tuesday, Feb. 25, Hiland allowed 26 points in a 69-26 win, but 13 of those points came in garbage time over the game’s final-three minutes. They then limited a talented Tusky Valley team to 37 in the district final game.

The dexterity this team shows on defense is almost frightening. Hiland boasts a strong back-court, a huge front-court and all kinds of depth. In an era where most teams are fortunate to have five decent players, Schlabach trucks 10 gifted talents in and out of the line-up and never misses a beat, and the defense is at the crux of the team’s success.

Many of the points it produces are a direct result of its defense, which creates tons of turnovers and quickly turns steals and long rebounds into lay-ups. Hiland’s pressure in a full-court press is one thing, but it is at its best when it gets into its trapping half-court defense that smothers opponents and forces them to set up shop way deeper than they would care to.

“Our big kids are athletic and mobile. They aren’t typical high school big kids,” Schlabach said. “On the perimeter we can really push the issue because of our quickness. We have a nice blend of talent that allows us to do a lot of different things on defense.”

Because of the team’s propensity to put up points, the defense often takes a back seat, but their head coach understands what a valuable weapon he has on the defensive end of the floor.

“With the way we can score, defense does kind of get overlooked by some people, but one of our biggest assets is our ability to score on transition defense off of turnovers. Oftentimes teams get beat in tournament play when they struggle to shoot it. When you’re creating points off of turnovers, that usually isn’t the case, and that is what we have been really good at all year,” Schlabach said.

This season Hiland has seen some teams hang around for much of the first half, only to watch Hiland go on a monster run to end the second quarter or to begin the second half, and the depth simply wears people down, giving Hiland a huge edge.

That was not the case against Martin’s Ferry, where Hiland systematically hammered away at the Purple Riders from the get-go and never let them back in.

On a night where the top-two scoring threats in Zoe Miller and Yoder were not on their A-game, others stepped up and delivered. Horn was especially great, hitting 4-of-5 treys with four steals on the way to a game-high 21 points. Zoe Miller scored a dozen, and Yoder added eight. Shetler, Swihart, Mullet and Shelby Miller all pitched in with six, showcasing some of that Lady Hawks depth.

While the points always seem to draw headlines, it is as much about the points that aren’t being scored by opponents that makes this group so difficult to defeat. The win improved Hiland’s season record to 24-1, its lone loss coming to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a team that has been perched in the top-10 teams in the nation all season.