Lady Hawks have to earn one in win over CVCA


When Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach scheduled Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, he knew the program was good. Perhaps he and his Lady Hawks didn’t realize how good until the young, quick and athletic Royals walked into the Reese Center at Hiland High School on Thursday, Dec. 10 and led the Lady Hawks one minute into the fourth quarter.

However, Hiland hasn’t risen to the top of the OHSAA pecking order for no reason, and a senior-laden group turned a two-point deficit into a 52-42 win.

The game was tight throughout, and the 10-point bulge at the final horn scarcely defined how close this contest was.

“Give them a ton of credit. That is an up-and-coming program that wants to go play good people,” Schlabach said. “We just called them a week ago, and they were excited about coming down here to play. They are a quality, physical team, and we had a tough time scoring against them. It has been a long time since we’ve been in a good battle like this, and our kids needed this.”

CVCA led 14-13 at the end of the first quarter, and Hiland managed to gain a slight 22-20 halftime lead by Zoe Miller’s play inside.

Gia Casalinova provided the Royals with their largest lead of the game in the third period, her 10-straight points for her team giving CVCA a 32-29 lead, but Hiland closed the quarter with scores from Miller and Kelsey Swihart to trim the deficit to 34-33 heading into the final-eight minutes.

A scary moment occurred one minute into the final quarter when Hiland junior forward Ayla Miller, who had been dominating the glass, tried to take a charge and was driven head-first to the floor, where she remained down for nearly 10 minutes. That seemed to inspire her teammates, who quickly got down to business once action returned.

Down 35-33, Morgan Yoder found Swihart with a great pass to even the score, and Miller hit a free throw to give the Lady Hawks the lead. Casalinova would give CVCA its final lead at 39-38 before Hiland would go on a 14-3 run to end the game.

Miller’s put-back gave Hiland a 40-39 lead it would not relinquish. Kyli Horn hit two free throws, and after CVCA missed an uncontested lay-up, Swihart completed an and-one to push the lead to 45-39. Another CVCA empty possession was followed by a series of trips to the line for Hiland, which converted 7-of-10 free throws to ice the game away.

“This game is going to make us better, and that is what we want,” Schlabach said. “We got pushed hard, and I liked the way we responded down the stretch.”

Casalinova scored 15 points to pace CVCA, getting help from Kylie Bettinger’s nine. Hiland was led by Zoe Miller, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Horn added 10 points. Yoder recorded eight points, five assists and five steals; Ayla Miller had four points to go with nine rebounds and three steals; Swihart added nine point and six boards; and Brynn Mullet added six points on a pair of 3-pointers.