Former Hiland duo thriving for AU women’s basketball

Former Hiland duo thriving for AU women’s basketball
Ben Nichols

Zoe Miller, left, and Morgan Yoder helped the Ashland University women's basketball team win the 2023 Division II national championship. The 2021 Hiland High graduates have great chemistry on the court and are good friends off the court.


Morgan Yoder and Zoe Miller have had lots of success on the basketball court throughout their lives.

As seniors at Hiland High School, the duo helped lead the Lady Hawks to a Division III state championship.

Two years later they played a key role in Ashland University capturing the 2023 Div. II national championship and ending the season unbeaten.

Both programs have developed a winning culture over the years. In many ways what’s expected of their players is the same at both places.

“I think one similarity (between the two programs) is the work ethic of the team,” Yoder said. “I think that’s something that both coaches at Hiland and Ashland expect of the players, but also the players really buy into their roles. I remember at Hiland every single person bought into the role, and that is what made our state runs possible.

“The same is true at this level at Ashland. Everyone buys into the roles, and I think the coaches also do a great job of preparing us, whether that’s in practices or games. They do the absolute most for this team to succeed.”

Playing at small-school powerhouse Hiland helped prepare them for what was to come at AU, one of the nation’s premier Div. II programs.

“I would say (playing at Hiland) definitely gave me confidence, and I was definitely prepared to step into a college role,” Miller said. “Playing a lot of the teams that we played in high school, a lot of those athletes were going D-I to Big 10 schools. Going up against people like that or just the competition in general, it just prepares you and makes you so much more confident knowing that you’re able to compete with them (when you go to college).”

A place to grow

Yoder knew Ashland University was where she wanted to continue her academic and basketball careers. She viewed it as the perfect place to grow as a player, as a person and in her faith.

“It’s a place where the community supports the women’s basketball team a ton,” Yoder said. “I also knew that every single year we would be competing for national championships, and that was something that I wanted to be part of. The coaching staff is also a big reason why I chose Ashland. Coach (Kari Pickens) is someone who is really intentional in relationships and also just someone I knew I wanted to learn a lot from in life and in basketball.”

Yoder stepped into an immediate role as a freshman, appearing in all but one game and starting five. The guard became a mainstay in the starting lineup during last season’s national championship run, starting 30 games while averaging 6.2 points and 3.1 assists. This season she’s averaging 5.1 points and 3.6 assists as a facilitator on the nation’s top-ranked team.

Miller’s path to AU wasn’t as straightforward.

She played at Div. I Bowling Green as a freshman, appearing in 23 games and starting five. After the season she decided to transfer to AU.

“I’m definitely very thankful for (my time at BG),” Miller said. “If it weren’t for my time at BG, I definitely wouldn’t have ended up at Ashland. I definitely chose Ashland because I wanted to be more than just a basketball player, and I knew (at Ashland) I could grow on and off the court. I love coach P. Right away when I came, she just had such a relationship-building program, and I came from a relationship-building program, so I think definitely her confidence in the team and confidence in we’re competing for a national championship every year really led me to Ashland.

“The support here is just awesome. Everyone loves Ashland basketball around here. We always have a bunch of fans at our games. Before committing here, I just loved the atmosphere. It’s just so fun, and you just enjoy all of it.”

Miller reached out to Yoder to get additional information about AU before deciding to transfer there.

“I came to a game (at AU), and Morgan played, and at that time, I kind of knew I wanted to transfer,” Miller said. “I really connected with her, and she had nothing but great things to say about Ashland, and I definitely knew I wanted to play with her again. I was so confident in that.”

Miller made an instant impact at AU. Although she only started five games, the forward appeared in all 37. She averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 rebounds.

This season she’s averaging 14.1 points and 4.5 rebounds. She’s appeared in all 26 games. She started the past six games entering the week of Feb. 26.

Friends on and off the court

Yoder and Miller have played basketball together since their youth. Miller said she can’t remember playing on a different team than Yoder besides her freshman year at BG.

The two are very close. They’re roommates and spend a lot of time together off the court.

“As we’ve gotten older, we definitely have a relationship that’s grown,” Miller said.

“Our friendship off the court has grown a ton since we’ve been younger,” Yoder said. “We were friends starting in fifth grade, I think. We’ve gotten to spend a lot of time together, whether that’s outside of practice or traveling for AU or traveling for summer basketball in high school, and now we’re roommates in college.”

After playing on separate teams as freshmen, they picked up right where they left off during their first year together at AU.

“There’s just sort of an on-the-court chemistry that we have,” Yoder said. “I know where she wants the ball when she’s posting up, and she knows where to find me out on the perimeter. I think having her on the court has also just brought a sense of comfort and stability into playing with her because I have somebody on the court with me that I trust, as well as all the other teammates, but with her it’s extra special, and there’s even more trust there because of the amount of time we got to play together before the college level.”

The right atmosphere

Hiland and AU are perennial winners. But the programs share something else, which is perhaps what has made them championship contenders on a yearly basis.

“I think one thing that both of us just love about both programs that we’ve gotten to play for at Hiland and Ashland is the coaching staff, and the community is something that’s super highlighted for us,” Yoder said. “The coaches at Hiland, they’re our people and have looked out for our best interests ever since we were, you know, 12 years old. I think the same was true when we came to Ashland with coach P. She invests in our lives far beyond the basketball aspect. She always tells us that basketball is something we do, and it is not who we are, and finding our identity in something that’s a lot greater than a basketball game (is important) — although basketball is something that we do get to enjoy and compete at a really high level.

“We’re super thankful for just those relationships that we’ve gotten to build with the coaches at the high school level and at the collegiate level.”

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