Morgan McMillen and Kennedy Schlabach will be forever remembered by Hiland faithful together. It was appropriate that they would sign their letters of intent to play college hoops together.
While the Hiland senior teammates may have officially only played basketball together as Hiland teammates for a couple of years, it seems as though they have been linked together forever. The two All-Ohioans have been playing together since they were youngsters, so it seemed appropriate they would unite again for their collegiate signing day at the Perry Reese Community Center at Hiland High School on Nov. 8. A nice contingency of family members, current Lady Hawks and fans gathered for the signing celebration as Schlabach inked her deal to attend Ohio Dominican University and McMillen signed on with Bowling Green University.
“When I think of them, they are very similar,” said Hiland head coach Dave Schlabach, who is sending his 42nd and 43rd players to the collegiate level, his program having amassed $3.8 million in scholarship money during that span. “They both love the game, and to be sitting here where they are today, you have to love the game because of the time and effort it takes and the passion you have to have.”
He added that the two players’ margin of error to get college scholarships was very small because of how short each one is. He said that at that size, both had to show toughness, a great skill set and unending dedication to improving their games through a relentless work ethic.
McMillen is currently battling through a knee injury that could sideline her for the remainder of the season. Knowing her work ethic, she will do everything within her power to return later this year. That made the signing day a little bittersweet for her. “I wish I was playing with my team,” McMillen said. “I can’t wait to get back out there.”
McMillen was being looked at by a number of Div. I schools and made several visits to possible suitors. However, when she visited BGSU, her mind was made up that she would become a Falcon. “Once I went to Bowling Green, I absolutely fell in love with the school, with the people and I knew from my first unofficial visit that it would be the school for me.”
While McMillen can play both inside and outside, she isn’t the tallest kid, standing at 5-foot-6, but her desire and work ethic is unrivaled, and she used a fierce competitive nature to go into the paint and work against bigger players. That kind of tenacity should propel her forward as she takes the next step in her hoops career. “I am excited,” McMillen said of preparing for the college game. “Everyone says that you’re going to be nervous and scared your freshman year, but I can’t let that get to me. I have to go in, play hard and earn a spot.”
McMillen said that she hopes to be back in action by late January or February, but she isn’t going to risk coming back too soon and re-injuring her knee. While she rehabs, she knows that being a part of head coach Dave Schlabach’s Lady Hawks program has prepared her for the rigors of what is yet to come. “I’ve been to a couple of other high school practices, and they don’t match the level of intensity in our practices,” McMillen said.
As for Schlabach, growing up in a home where her dad also was her head coach set the table for her to hone an all-around complete set of skills. A sharp-shooter with a lightning-quick release, she is a tremendously gifted shooter from downtown and from the charity stripe, where she connects on 90 percent of her free throw attempts.
While she will rejoin former teammate and Hiland All-Ohioan Angela Troyer at ODU, Schlabach said a late run from West Liberty University almost drew her away. “In the end I felt that ODU was the best fit for me,” Schlabach said. “I definitely connected with their team and their coaches. They were all great. Having Angela there will make it an easier transition for me.”
As for playing for her dad all these years, she really doesn’t know what playing the game under any other coaches feels like, so that will be a new experience for her. “It will be weird next year not playing for Dad, but he has taught me so much,” Schlabach said. “I’ve grown up with the game of basketball, but he has taught me so many life lessons, not even on the court. He has taught me that it is not about your size, but you play your hardest, and your work ethic shows.”
Schlabach began her varsity career as a freshman point guard, where she averaged less than one turnover per game. Since then she has grown into more than just a distributor, learning how to create her own shot and forcing teams to figure ways to stop her from getting touches. “Every year people scout you, so you have to get better at something else, and every year we have tried to progress my game, and each year since my freshman year, I think I have improved,” Schlabach said. “Going to college, I know I’ll have to get some new skills and keep improving.”
For head coach Dave Schlabach, being a dad and a head coach for a senior daughter who has been a part of the program since she was in elementary school will be a surreal season. “It’s going to be a little different,” coach Schlabach said. “Even though I know what an investment these kids make, you absolutely know what investment your own kid makes. I’m trying to enjoy it all, and it is a great opportunity to sit on the parent side more.”
Coach Schlabach has pretty much claimed McMillen as his daughter because his assistant coach Nick McMillen has been a part of the program for years. McMillen moved into the East Holmes School District her sophomore year, and the two seniors have been joined at the hip ever since. “She’s been with us since third grade,” coach Schlabach said of McMillen. “She is facing a tough situation, but she continues to be a great leader for us.”
The other reason it is so appropriate for these two to sign together is because they united to create what was perhaps the most defining play in the history of Lady Hawks basketball. Last year in the Lady Hawks’ Div. IV state semifinal, it was McMillen who drove the length of the floor with a few seconds left and fired a strike to Schlabach in the left corner, who calmly drained the game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
McMillen said that while she is looking at early education and sports management, she will enter college as an undecided for her major. Schlabach will be studying business and law.