It's the end of a chapter for Hiland Lady Hawks seniors


The bond of this year’s group of senior Lady Hawks players runs deep. They started playing together in elementary school. They have been pouring their hearts into the program ever since the days of being ball girls for Lady Hawks teams they watched work their way to state.

As the end draws near, with what they hope will be two more games together that would culminate in the program’s sixth state championship, both players and longtime coach Dave Schlabach can see the finish line approaching.

The starting quintet of Morgan Yoder, Brynn Mullet, Kyli Horn, Kelsey Swihart and Zoe Miller have been through the wars, facing some of the state’s finest competition at Div. I levels, putting in countless hours in the gym and preparing for this, their senior year. Rejoining them after dedicating herself to a record-setting soccer career is coach Schlabach’s youngest, Gabby Schlabach.

On Saturday, March 6, they celebrated qualifying for a third-straight state tournament.

Win or lose, they will go out the way they came in, together.

“We’ve been together since sixth grade, and it has been an honor to play with my best friends for as long as I have and to have this kind of success knowing all the hard work we put in,” point guard and floor general Yoder said. “It makes the end very bittersweet, even if there is a win at the end of the rainbow.”

This group is unique in that each of the five players brings something unique to the table. They mesh together and know each other so well.

“This is such a great feeling,” Swihart said. “There is such a deep commitment, not just from the seniors, but from the players and the coaching staff. We understand the sacrifices and what it takes to get to where we are, and we never take that for granted. We all know this only comes when we work hard and work together.”

Last season saw the Lady Hawks earn a spot at state in a tournament in which they were favored to win, only to see it slip away when COVID-19 brought the tournament to a quick halt.

This year they get their final chance to rectify that, and they feel very prepared to ride the joy of this train until the final destination.

“We were so prepared this year. We were so prepared last year, and this experience has been awesome,” Miller said. “We have been together every day this past summer off-season. We knew what this was going to mean to us. We are sisters, and that is what makes it so special.”

When you spend as much time together as this group has, it becomes a second family. You eat, play, work and go to school together. You want to win, not for yourself, but for the teammates you know have given everything they have for you. That makes the finality of it all hard to fathom.

“It is going to be super-hard to leave this behind,” Mullet said. “It’s part of who we are, and we have all sacrificed so much to get to this final weekend of our careers. We joke a lot about this time coming, but when it comes, it is going to be hard to let it go.”

For a team that has experienced the wild success this group has, one might think winning another regional title would be old hat. However, the smiles of relief on the faces of both coaches and players signifies it isn’t ever easy and it is always satisfying.

“I don’t think people realize the pressure,” coach Schlabach said. “It’s not any big secret that we are supposed to be here, and that even makes it tougher. You’ve got that bull's-eye on your back, and you start to think twice about everything. Give these seniors credit. They are relentless, and focused, and goal-oriented, and they believe in themselves.”

Schlabach said these big games, all of the championships at each level and all of the wins never get old. Each group is different, each with their own personality, and each team is special. This one may be one of Schlabach’s finest, and that is saying something for one of the winningest coaches in OHSAA girls basketball history.

So it all boils down to two games, 64 minutes, that relentless defense, the 3-point shots, the power moves in the paint and everything else this group has poured into preparing for this moment.

“This has been our goal since what happened last year,” Horn said. “It has been our motivation. It has driven us, and we have such great chemistry that we are ready.”

Ready to finish off a career that may be second to none in the annuls of a program that has set itself apart in any division in the state of Ohio.