Kobe Troyer, Scott Troyer, John Sisson, Hunter Sommers and Damien Kandel waited a long time for their time to shine. They certainly made the most of it.
In 2017, having played roles behind an athletic and deep class of talent that graduated last year when the Hawks boys basketball team worked its way to a regional final berth in Div. III, this year’s group of seniors had waited a long time for their chance to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Head coach Mark Schlabach had said for years that although this group didn’t have a lot of flash and pizzazz and didn’t have any superstar standouts that made people stop and watch in awe, he and his staff were excited to get the opportunity to bring out the best in this group.
The best got them all the way to state, where they eventually fell 51-41 to Cornerstone Christian. However, the trek to state was one that they won’t soon forget, and it was because of their commitment, leadership and desire to show people they could get the job done that they were able to succeed in ways many people never thought possible.
“We have never had to ask them to play hard,” Schlabach said if this group. “They just went about business, and they have all waited a long time for an opportunity to show they can play. When you play as hard and as unselfishly as they do every night, good things are going to happen. I’m really happy for them because they do the right things. We never once this year had to get on them for petty things, and that is always the case. Every guy accepted his role and did the job.”
Having waited so long to prove themselves, the season didn’t start out with a bang. Hiland was 6-5 through 11 games, and many people felt that this team might linger around .500 all year. However, they never felt that, and part of the tough start to the year was the competition the group played. The Hawks had lost to five tough customers in the Inter-Valley Conference: defending champion Strasburg, who lost one game in the regular season; Mansfield St. Peter’s, who went undefeated during the year; Indian Valley, which reeled off a 17-game winnings streak to start the year; a Garaway team that came within a whisper of a state berth themselves; and a mentor Lake Catholic team that boasted as strong of a lineup as Hiland faced all season.
“I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance early on, but we just kept plugging away and never stopped believing in ourselves,” Kandel said.
Their hard work paid off as the Hawks got on a huge roll, hammering out 17 straight victories before falling at state. In that span younger teammates like Andy Miller, Colten Sommers, Kendall Hochstetler and Sam Habeger took on key roles, and the Hawks team play helped them gain a lot of love from area fans, who began to realize this team was for real.
“Getting to state was something we talked about since the beginning of the year,” Kandel said. “We were 6-5, and everyone was talking about how we were going to have a down year. We wanted to show everyone we could play. We are a very tight-knit group of guys, and that was something that really helped us. We never got down on each other, and that was huge.”
Scott Troyer had put together what coach Schlabach said was an amazing summer. He then came out and couldn’t score, something this team needed from him in a huge way.
Then in game 11 in a loss to Garaway, he poured in 37 points in a game that turned his season completely around. He went on to be tabbed as the IVC South Offensive Player of the Year and earned Second-team All-Ohio honors.
He said having the trust of his teammates during his struggles was a big part of him being able to turn the corner.
“At that point I started to really gain confidence, but my teammates trusted me all year long, and that was the kind of trust and belief we had in each other all year. I think as a group we have waited for this moment for so long, and we have had to be patient, but it finally came, and we made the most of it.”
Defensively this Hiland team made its living with a staunch half-court defense that stymied opponents all year. And it seemed as though when it mattered the most, this team was at its best.
At regionals the Hawks gave up just five second-half points to Fairfield Christian Academy and then allowed only eight second-half points to Peebles to reach the state tournament.
The post players in Kandel, Hochstetler, Kobe Troyer and Habeger were undersized but were relentless in the paint, a high-energy group that never stopped working. Out front Scott Troyer, Miller and Sisson were the trio that spearheaded this relentless pressure that forced teams out of their comfort zone offensively.
“I love this group, and defensively it was insane,” Sisson said. “We just kept putting pressure on teams, and they were usually dead by the time the third and fourth quarters rolled around. I thought our defense was pretty key to our success, and it only happened because we all bought into it 100 percent. Nobody cared about who got credit; we only wanted to shut teams down. This season was incredible, and to reach the state tournament was a dream come true for us because we know how hard we have worked to get a chance.”
Then there was Hunter Sommers, who didn’t get a lot of playing time this season. But every team needs kids like Sommers, who prove to be great teammates and provide more value to a successful team than anyone ever gives them credit for.
“Even though I don’t get to play much, to be a part of this team and part of such a great group of guys is awesome,” Sommers said.
Perhaps nobody summed up this team more than Kobe Troyer. The gunslinger worked hard, as did this entire group, to strengthen their game. Coach Schlabach had said for two years that people were going to be amazed at Kobe Troyer’s game once he got a chance to showcase his skills.
“He’s going to be the next guy to come along and have people say, ‘Where did he come from,’” Schlabach said.
Kobe Troyer did just that, and it earned him a spot on the Honorable Mention All-Ohio squad in Div. IV.
“All of these guys, they have worked so hard in practice every day to get to where we are,” Kobe Troyer said. “Our coaches always have stressed toughness, especially mental toughness, and I thought this group took that to heart, and that made us a lot better. Coach Schlabach always talked about not worrying about what happens and getting to the next play. This group has such a great chemistry, and we have been playing together for so long we know each other and understand our tendencies and what we want to accomplish on the floor. It’s just a group that gets along so well, on and off the court. We have been waiting for our chance to shine for a long time now, and it was nice to finally get that chance and show everyone that we can compete and succeed.”
The five seniors proved that good things do come to those who wait. While they waited, they took nothing for granted, continued to work hard and applied themselves. In the end their leadership, unity and commitment to the team and to each other allowed them to step out of the shadows and into the record books as Hiland’s 10th boys basketball team to reach the state tournament.