A special season for a Hiland team that simply wouldn’t quit

A special season for a Hiland team that simply wouldn’t quit
Shawn Troyer

Logan Hershberger exemplified Hiland's defensive zeal, a major factor in every single practice at Hiland. The Hawks work ethic at practice helped them survive plenty of obstacles to capture a state runner-up title.


Coming into the basketball season, the Hiland Hawks had some monumental expectations, with their sights set on earning a state berth and even challenging for a state title.

Then came the injury bug that bit starting point guard Ashton Schrock before the season even set sail. At midseason the Hawks lost talented center Alex Yoder for the remainder of the year, and just prior to the beginning of the tournament, inspirational leader Connor Beachy suffered an ankle injury that pushed him to the Hiland bench.

The season could have spiraled out of control.

Instead, it got totally inspirational.

Yes, the Hiland season came to an unsatisfying end with a 62-35 loss to Division IV state powerhouse Richmond Heights, but that season-ending loss didn’t come until the Hawks had clawed all the way to the state finals.

While Hiland played inspired basketball all season, the games it won along the way included a wild regional final win over South Webster and a stunning victory over a talented Lima Central Catholic team in the Div. IV state semifinal that took two overtimes to decide.

These games and the fortitude it took to gain entry to the team’s 14th state appearance were a testament to something far more significant, that being the work done in the summer and the work done on the hardwood in the Reese Center daily in practice.

The Hawks’ practices are grueling. It takes an incredible amount of commitment from players and coaching staff and requires self-sacrifice.

It takes heart beyond measure and a commitment to playing hard, not for oneself, but for teammates.

“We expected to have a really good year this year,” Hiland head coach Mark Schlabach said. “Talent-wise, we had all the pieces to make a major run. Then we suffered those setbacks, and it was devastating because you never know when the next chance to do something special might come along. You suffer these setbacks, and that thought starts creeping into your mind, ‘What might have been.’ For these guys to push through and be this resilient speaks volumes as to how special they are.”

Schlabach said he can draw a comparison to this team and the 1992 state championship team, which also upended a talented LCC team in the state finals.

“Much like that team, these guys refused to lose,” Schlabach said.

While there was no return of MC Hammer’s song “Too Legit To Quit” from the ’92 squad, the deep-seated drive to succeed despite the odds was very similar. Schlabach even said he sent each of his players a link to that 1992 game that ended with three Junior Raber free throws.

Schlabach said seeing players step up and deliver in roles they weren’t expected to fill early in the year was fulfilling, but he then talked about how practices set the table for this type of success despite the injuries.

“Without question (that) set the stage for this success,” Schlabach said. “These kids committed to doing whatever they had to do to be successful, and it all starts right here in our own gym when the stands are empty and nobody is watching.”

Mmeaningful moments only come about when players prepare themselves for that moment. This group fully understood the things they did over and over in practice would be the way they performed when it mattered most.

“We can’t afford to have light practices because every game we play on our schedule is a tough game designed to challenge us and make us better,” Schlabach said. “We practice hard every night and get incrementally better as the year goes along because of it.”

Hiland has made a living of coming through in the fourth quarter because it is prepared mentally and physically for the final push. Schlabach has said many times that conditioning is the great equalizer, and that showed the tournament run.

There are no awards given out for practice, but the rewards this team won this season came about solely because of the practice they put in, and they did it together.

With an emphasis on defense, another Hiland staple, Schlabach’s players bought in, selling out on defense, which makes practices that much harder.

That leads to one simple motto for the Hawks.

“Our kids expect to win,” Schlabach said. “We don’t always win, but we expect to every night out, no matter who we are playing. That mindset eventually sinks in for kids.”

Nick Wigton, who played two huge games at state, said practice time is when the team sets the tone to face the odds and keep winning.

“If we don’t practice the way we do, we don’t make this run,” Wigton said. “All of that work showed up on the floor on game nights.”

“We were just determined not to let it end,” senior All-Ohioan Sammy Detweiler said. “We believe in each other and know what we’re capable of doing because we see it every day in practice.”

Sam Wengerd said toughness becomes part of the fabric of who the team is, and making that commitment to play in practice like they play in games was paramount to the team’s improbable run to the state finals.

Even the injured on the bench remained critical parts of this group, especially Yoder and Beachy, both inspirational senior leaders.

“This team wasn’t ever going to quit working hard,” Beachy said. “There’s no quit. We practice hard and play hard and never give up, and I think we might have surprised a lot of people with how we were able to survive, but it didn’t surprise us because we know the type of commitment it took and the work we put in to make this dream happen.”

That dream took them all the way to the state finals.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load