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Tiger women put pressure on, roll to win

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Before he came to Fort Hays State University, coach Tony Hobson ran a press virtually every possession and won three NAIA national championships at Hastings (Neb.) College. In his first four years at FHSU, Hobson sometimes used a press. However, this season, the Tigers plan to press more frequently.

Fort Hays has quality depth, quick guards, athletic forwards in sophomore Keriann Shaw and junior Katelyn Edwards and senior guards Traci Keyser and Melissa Nelson, veterans who have improved in their role on the press.

The differences helped FHSU enjoy a 23-0 run early and roll to a 93-53 victory against Northwestern Oklahoma State University on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Fort Hays forced 23 turnovers, played up-tempo, moved and shared the ball well and improved from the season's first two contests.

"I was surprised with how well we played," Hobson said. "I have seen us have spurts like that in practice. But we hadn't seen that the first couple of games with quite the intensity. I thought we had kind of an edge to us tonight. We were ready to play, and it was evident."

Fort Hays, receiving votes in the NCAA Division II poll, moved to 3-0, while NWOSU, a team transitioning to Division II, dropped to 0-2. Fort Hays trailed 3-0 early, but then led 23-3 with 10 minutes, 35 seconds remaining before intermission. The Rangers didn't have a field goal from the 18:12 to the 8:36 mark of the first half.

"Each year keeps getting better, and I am so pumped about this season," said Keyser, a three-year starter. "We are really clicking, working together and we have a lot of talent."

Last year, Fort Hays forced 16 turnovers a contest and averaged 7.1 steals per game. This season, the Tigers already have 77 forced turnovers and 44 steals. Against the Rangers, Fort Hays finished plus-12 in turnover margin. Nine Tigers played at least 13 minutes and eight collected a steal. Sophomore center Kate Lehman led the team with 23 points, while Edwards had 14 points and a game-high seven rebounds. Nelson finished with 15 points, two assists and two steals.

"We are going to press until somebody forces us not to," Hobson said. "There will be some teams where we might use it more sporadically, but we have got so many kids that can go with good size and good quickness, that's how we are going to play. We are going to go 10 to 12 deep. That's not an issue and I think we can wear some people out that way."

Fort Hays tied the game at three when Lehman tipped a pass that Edwards stole. The turnover eventually led to a basket for Edwards. Fort Hays upped the lead to 9-3 when Nelson sprinted in, knocked a pass into the air at the 3-point line and caught the ball. Lehman tallied a layup off the steal. An Edwards' steal led to a Nelson layup and a 13-3 lead.

"You need a couple really quick guards out there," Hobson said. "You need somebody that you can put on the ball that can also be interchanged with a guard, and we have got that with Kate Edwards and Keriann Shaw."

Keyser, who has played in 84 career games as a Tiger, often played a 4 position, or power forward, in high school. With Fort Hays, Keyser has mainly played shooting guard.

"I used to sit back in the middle of the court and kind of see what is going on and try to intervene where I can," Keyser said.

On Saturday, Keyser recorded her first steal of the season off the trapping press.

"We have a couple interceptors and usually it's me in the middle and then the off guard," Keyser said. "We are just kind of reading and getting better at that and trying to intercept passes that way."

The play led to a fast break layup from Shaw and a 15-3 lead.

"We've had pretty good ball pressure before in the games, but we have never had that rotation where Traci and Mel would come up and get in it," Hobson said. "That's what we have been lacking, and we have been really working on that. I was happy to see them get that down and be active back in the second row of that press."

"It's just against their nature to be up towards the ball so far," Hobson added. "I want to have them throw the ball over the top of (us), because we can recover and those are hard passes to catch, to throw. We can turn people over that way."

Nelson hit a 3-pointer off a Shaw steal to push the lead to 18-3. A few minutes later, Shaw had another steal in the backcourt. Senior Kelsie Sorenson collected a conventional 3-point play off the turnover and bumped the lead to 23-3.

"I like the ball pressure," Hobson said. "Kate Edwards and Keriann (Shaw) do a great job up at the point of the press and our other kids did a good job."