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FHSU begins key stretch

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University senior Katelyn Edwards and junior Kate Lehman each joined the 1,000-point club last week in a two-game road trip through University of Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State University.

They are the 16th and 17th Tigers to reach the standard in school history, first since guard Naomi Bancroft is 2010. In addition, Lehman and Edwards stand in the top 10 in school history in career free throws made and attempted. Lehman is in the top 20 all-time for blocked shots in NCAA history.

Edwards is aware of the milestones, but wants something bigger.

"I just really want to have a good year this year," Edwards said. "We have let a few games slip that we shouldn't have."

Fort Hays, ranked No. 24 in NCAA Division II, stands at 13-3, 6-3 MIAA entering an eight-day, three-game critical stretch against a trio of Kansas schools. The Tigers will travel to Pittsburg State University, receiving votes in the national poll at 11-6, 4-3 MIAA, on Saturday afternoon. On Thursday, the Tigers played their first contest without starting sophomore guard Taylor Chandler (knee injury) and delivered a 64-39 victory against South Dakota School of Mines.

"It would be a huge win for us, because Pitt State will be a top five or six team at the worst, and to get somebody like that on the road would be big," coach Tony Hobson said. "It's going to take a better effort than what we had tonight, but I think we will probably get a better effort than what we had tonight."

Start time is 1:30 p.m. at John Lance Arena. The Tigers have lost four straight in Pittsburg, including a three-point defeat last season and an overtime loss two years ago. Gorilla junior Lizzy Jeronimus ranks second in the MIAA at 18.9 points a contest. Tiger junior center Kate Lehman is fifth at 15.8 points per game and leads the nation in blocks per contest. FHSU paces the country in assist/turnover ratio, blocks per game, scoring margin and fewest turnovers per contest.

"It is a huge game," Edwards said. "We are really close games won and games lost to Pitt, and this would be a big confidence booster for us. I think it would just put us right where we want to be to finish the season off."

The MIAA is traditionally a top-heavy conference where road wins are difficult. This season, though, home teams have dominated at a historically high rate. Five MIAA squads remain undefeated at home, including FHSU (9-0). Pittsburg State is 5-1 at home.

Against Division II teams, the MIAA has won 82 percent of non-conference games, according to masseyratings.com.

In conference play, home teams have won 67 percent of the time. Overall, home teams have won 72 percent of games, the nation's best home field advantage, according to Massey. The percentage is even higher when last-place Lincoln (Mo.) University (0-7 at home) is excluded.

It's the best home field advantage in all games since 74 percent in 2007-08. In conference play, it's the best home field advantage since Massey first calculated the statistic in the 2003-04 season.

On Wednesday, Northeastern State University played host to Emporia State University, ranked No. 2 and then-undefeated. NSU beat the Hornets 59-44 and held ESU to a 24.6 shooting percentage, worst by the Hornets since Jan. 2, 1997.

Lincoln had a double-digit second half lead against No. 8 University of Central Missouri, but the Jennies came back for a 71-70 road victory. The top six teams have between one and three conference losses.

"The teams are so evenly matched this year and we saw (Wednesday) night that there was a few upsets and a few really close games," Edwards said.

Fort Hays' three losses all came on the road.

The first two were against Central Missouri and Missouri Southern State University, receiving votes nationally. Last weekend, the Tigers fell 49-48 to Northeastern State. After Saturday, the Tigers play host to Emporia State next Wednesday and Washburn University next Saturday.

"It's a really tough ballgame, but with a huge challenge comes huge opportunity," Hobson said. "If we could get that one Saturday, it would kind of make up for getting nipped against Northeastern. We need to make up a couple of games somewhere. That would be a good way to start."