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Tigers come up short

With Selection Sunday and the Big Dance ready to kick off March Madness, the NCAA is ready to revel in one of the sporting world's most popular events.

Of course, that tournament is reserved for the top division of collegiate basketball -- the one that brings in enough television revenue to spark debate of whether to pay the athletes or not. In Division II towns such as Hays, the field of 64 was selected this past weekend.

And despite having excellent contenders on both the men's and women's side, neither of the Tiger teams made it to the national tournament. Defeats in the semifinal round of the MIAA conference tournament by both were enough to burst the bubble for both squads. Our hearts go out to the players who have now entered the off-season. Their play -- and their records -- were worthy of inclusion in the national tourney.

The Fort Hays State University women cagers finished at 22-7. Under the guidance of Coach Tony Hobson, the Lady Tigers tied for the most wins in program history since 1994-95. They started off the year with an exhibition game at Kansas State University, losing by a mere 9 points -- and then proceeded to get better. Three of their losses in the regular season were by a total of 8 points.

"We are about three possessions from hosting a regional," Hobson said.

In the conference tournament, it took the University of Central Missouri an overtime period before the Lady Tigers succumbed. Less than 24 hours later, they discovered their season was done.

Even thought the Fort Hays men didn't have as many wins, they had won the MIAA regular season championship. During the regular season, Coach Mark Johnson's team had four losses by a total of 8 points. In the conference tourney, the Tigers were upended by Northwest Missouri State -- a team FHSU had beaten twice this year already.

Still, on the Division II's selection Sunday, Fort Hays' name was not mentioned. The two MIAA teams moving on are Central Missouri, which won the conference tournament, and Northeastern State University from Oklahoma. Northeastern, which did beat the Tigers by 15 points earlier in the season, was tied for third in the conference and lost its quarterfinal contest in the MIAA tourney. At 19-8, it's hard to fathom how the selection committee viewed its body of work as better than FHSU.

But what's done is done. And for both the Fort Hays State University men and women basketball programs, there is nothing to hang their heads about. Both are competing admirably in a tough conference; both teams are building strong reputations. Success builds on itself. Tiger fans will have plenty more to cheer in the future.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net