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FHSU women fall despite big night for Lehman

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

EMPORIA -- Fort Hays State University sophomore center Kate Lehman scored the Tigers' first 17 points of Saturday's road contest against Emporia State University. She finished with one of the best statistical lines in Tiger history: 25 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks. Plus, she altered several other attempts and contained Hornet sophomore center Merissa Quick to 2-of-10 shooting for six points.

However, Lehman's day meant little.

Fort Hays ended a frustrating road trip and continued its long losing streak against ESU with a 69-54 loss at White Auditorium.

"We win and lose as a team, so it doesn't really matter how I play," Lehman said.

FHSU, ranked No. 10 in NCAA Division II, dropped to 10-2, 2-2 MIAA. Emporia State, a perennial powerhouse, improved to 6-5, 1-2 MIAA.

It was the 15th straight loss to Emporia State, a stretch that dates back to the '03-04 season. The defeat produced a longer than normal postgame meeting for FHSU.

On Thursday, Fort Hays lost 54-44 at Northeastern (Okla.) State University, also a consistent top-25 program.

"Our kids are really down," fifth-year Tiger coach Tony Hobson said. "I think they felt like if we would have played up to our capabilities, we could have won both of these games on this road trip, and we didn't win either one of them. There is a little soul-searching going on with our kids right now, and there should be."

In that contest, the Tigers shot just 29 percent from the field. Against Emporia State, ranked earlier this season, Fort Hays led 33-26 at halftime, but shot 5 of 31 in the second half, including 0 of 6 from 3-point range.

With less than four minutes remaining, FHSU was 2 of 25 after intermission. Fort Hays, first nationally in scoring defense, allowed a season-high in points.

"What we talked about mainly was there is going to be times that you are going to go on a little drought against good teams," Hobson said. "You have got to pick your defense up. You can't go the other way."

Emporia State, ranked No. 19 nationally in the preseason and on a stretch of 16 straight winning seasons, fell out of the rankings after the first several weeks. The Hornets had multiple players injured early and had just three home games in their first 10 contests. ESU's first two conference games were on the road. The Hornets moved to 4-0 at home this year.

Last season, Fort Hays lost 81-70 at Emporia State in the first matchup of Quick and Lehman. Quick collected 20 points, while Lehman had a double-double.

"Just bullied (Lehman) around," Hobson said.

This season, the 6-foot-4 Lehman wanted to deliver a stronger performance against the 6-foot-3 Quick.

"I was looking forward to a battle with a girl my size," Lehman said. ".... I was kind of determined to beat her."

As well, the Tigers knew of the losing streak against Emporia. Among current MIAA teams, ESU is the lone squad Hobson and four-year players Traci Keyser and Kelsie Sorenson had faced more than once and never beaten.

"I wanted to win it for them and for coach very badly," Lehman said.

In the first half, Emporia guarded Lehman 1-on-1, often with Quick. Multiple times, Lehman scored on layups and turnarounds. No other Tiger scored until freshman Taylor Chandler had a steal and layup with 6:51 left.

In the second half, Emporia State double-teamed Lehman, but the Tigers couldn't hit shots.

Lehman finished 9 of 16 from the field; the rest of the team was 9 of 34. She was three off her career high in points, one back of her career-best in rebounds, and two behind her single game blocks.

Junior Katelyn Edwards was 3 of 13 for 13 points, while senior point guard Kaiameka Brown finished 1 of 11.

"We had the same open looks," Hobson said. "It's just that they made theirs. We didn't make ours. Boom, you are behind. ...When you go on these scoring droughts, you have to have somebody make some shots, and we are just not right now. If they take away our inside game with Kate Lehman, it really limits us."

Fort Hays led 37-36 when Lehman took a break with 12 minutes, 36 seconds left. Then, Emporia State went on an 8-2 run before Lehman returned. The Tigers never regained the lead. The Hornets placed four in double figures, including 18 from junior Laura Patrick.

"We weren't switching screens that we were supposed to switch, and then she was able to go all the way to the basket," Lehman said.

Fort Hays will play host to Washburn University, ranked No. 6 in Division II, on Thursday night.

"We are the same team we were after the first 10 games," Hobson said. "We are still healthy. It's all between the ears right now. They just have to understand that they are still the same players and they just have to have a little faith in themselves."