Never Daunted: How beloved Miller girls basketball coach Donna Buckley navigated her career in teaching and coaching to achieve her dream of leading the Millers to a state title


Ian Pigors and Maria Celis

The date is February 28th, 1987. Noblesville is set to face Anderson Highland in the 4A state championship for girls basketball, vying for their first state title in school history. Led by head coach Ray Lyttle, the Millers were looking to become just the seventh undefeated championship team in the history of the state of Indiana. Fans poured into now torn down market square arena in Indianapolis, former home of the Indiana Pacers. Many were wearing shirts with the slogan “Miller Time” in support of the Lady Millers. NHS won their first state championship that night, and somewhere in the stands, a 12-year-old Donna Buckley sat and watched in awe, and a dream for her was born that night; to coach the Noblesville Millers girls to a state title. 


Fast forward to 2022. Buckley’s dream indeed came true, as Noblesville shellacked Franklin 76-52 in the new Pacers arena, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, to win their first state championship since Lyttle’s team accomplished the feat on that February night more than three decades ago.


“You can’t describe it, you can only experience it. There’s no words to describe it,” sophomore guard Reagan Wilson said after the game. 


Buckley offered a similar sentiment.


“So surreal. I’m so proud of our kids, our community. It’s just a great feeling,” Buckley said after the win. 


While Buckley’s dream of becoming the second coach to lead the Lady Millers to state glory came true, her career as a teacher and coach started long before the confetti fell on February 26th. From her JV coaching days at South Adams high school in Berne Indiana, to her dream job leading the Millers, Buckley’s coaching and teaching career has spanned 25 years across four different high schools. 


Before coaching, Buckley was an athlete herself, playing four sports in high school. Basketball in particular was something that appealed to her from a young age, 


“I played basketball from the time I was very little, and [from that point] I fell in love with basketball,” Buckley said. “Just seeing that it can change a person’s life, it brings people and friendships together, it brings communities together. I just love that about sports.”


Buckley went on to star at Taylor University, and after her playing career ended, Buckley already had an idea for what she wanted to do for her career. Educating and coaching was something she was drawn to well before her playing days came to an end.


“I have always wanted to be a teacher and a coach for as long as I can remember,” Buckley said. “There’s nobody in education in my family, it’s just something I knew I wanted to do. The opportunity to be here [at Noblesville] was literally my childhood dream.” 


Buckley started her head coaching career at Fort Wayne South before moving to Greenfield Central after one season. Buckley spent seven years on the Cougars bench, it was there where she met and coached current Noblesville assistant Kelsey Hoffman. Hoffman maintains that Buckley’s philosophy and coaching style has remained consistent through the years. 


“She has mellowed out a little bit, but she is the exact same in terms of building relationships, funny, but serious when it needs to get serious, but not serious all the time. Always good at making sure we’re having fun, and she’s carried all of that over the years,” Hoffman said. 


While Greenfield Central was her first destination as a head coach, Buckley says that she always wanted to be at Noblesville, and when the opportunity came to take her dream job, there was little hesitancy. 


“I loved being at Greenfield, everybody there was so good to me, and it was a great experience. But like I said, Noblesville was my dream job, so when this [position] opened, it was time to leave,” Buckley said. 


When she took over the Millers’ program, Buckley wanted to put an emphasis on the youth development program for younger girl basketball players in Noblesville. 


“We needed to get the youth program going [in Noblesville]. That was huge to get our kids playing more. Once we got that going, and giving our kids more opportunities to develop at a young age, we were able to start turning a corner and having some really good basketball teams coming through here,” Buckley said.


From that point, Millers fans began to see success on the floor. In the last two seasons, Noblesville posted a combined record of 46-9, with back to back sectional championships, And the dream of young Donna Buckley of coaching a state champion at Noblesville came true this past winter. But for the Millers staff, the emphasis isn’t just on winning, it’s on having the most positive impact on their players before the girls embark on their life’s journey. 


Hoffman sees the culture and positive environment Buckley and her coaches hope to build with the program. 


“We build our culture around how they can grow as women, how they can be strong leaders, how they can be strong independent women when they leave us, and how they can communicate and be empathetic to others. How they can care for their teammates, all of the leadership that goes into it we try to exemplify as women and women leaders in sports,” Hoffman said. 


Senior team manager Abby Hoover had thoughts on Buckley’s impact on girls basketball and sports as a whole and what she has meant to her players and everyone in the program.


“One thing Buckley preaches is equality for girls sports. She tries her absolute hardest to get equal treatment for the girls. And she has done just that, and I personally admire that about her. Winning isn’t everything. And while it is nice, I think Buckley’s biggest impact is how well she advocates for her athletes,” Hoover said. 


Despite achieving her ultimate goal, Buckley’s motivation to Coach remains strong, and her desire to help her players get better and be successful, both on the court and in their lives isn’t changing. 


“I just love coaching. I love working with kids. Obviously, you want to win. We want to win it all again next year,” Buckley said. “But at the end of the day, it’s so much bigger than that. You want to help kids be the best they can be and see that success on and off the floor.”