Lehman, Hobson collect MIAA honors
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Four years ago, senior Kate Lehman didn't believe she could one day be the MIAA's best player. Even as her career with the Fort Hays State University women's basketball team unfolded -- all-conference recognition and broken records aplenty -- Lehman still was missing that top honor to fully separate her from the pack.
Then came Tuesday, when the conference named her the 2014-15 MIAA Player of the Year for the first time, throwing in a third straight MIAA Defensive Player of the Year honor on top of it.
"It was (something I was hoping for), especially since there are such good players in our league that are also seniors," Lehman said.
"So for me to get it in a class that packed with talent is pretty exciting. If you would have asked me freshman year, 'Well, are you ever going to get this award?', I would have said, 'Oh God, no.' "
Lehman's nod for both awards is hardly a surprise. The Newton native was named the MIAA Player of the Week seven times throughout the regular season for the No. 4-ranked Tigers, Emporia State University's Merissa Quick the only other player to win the award more than once -- she won it twice.
Entering this week's MIAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., where FHSU (26-2 overall, 18-1 MIAA) is the top seed after winning the regular-season crown by three games over ESU and Pittsburg State University, Lehman ranks second in the conference in both points and rebounds per game. Her 19.2 points a contest trails only Missouri Western State University's LaQuinta Jefferson (20.5 ppg), Lehman's 10.3 rpg second to Lindenwood University's Zailo Vanessa (13.0 rpg).
Add in her 4.3 blocked shots per game (she has 26 more blocked shots than ESU's Quick, who is second in the league), and Lehman is a statistical powerhouse that led FHSU to its first MIAA title since joining the conference in 2006, and has the Tigers on the cusp of being a regional host in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
"It's a great honor for Kate to get the two major awards, the defensive player of the year and overall player of the year," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. "I think she was in the running for player of the year last year and probably came in second. So it was nice to have another consistent year and be able to win both of them."
Hobson brought home the conference's other major award after he was named the MIAA Coach of the Year. In his seventh season with the Tigers, it's his first COY honor in the MIAA but far from the first in his career. He has been named "coach of the year" 11 times throughout his various coaching stops, including his three NAIA Coach of the Year awards from his time at Hastings College in Nebraska.
The 26 wins for FHSU this season are a Division II record for the Tigers, which included a 21-game win streak, the second longest in program history.
"I figured he would get it. I hoped he would," Lehman said of Hobson. "I think he should have gotten it last year, too, because he's done so much for this program. It's a really big honor for him. It's exciting."
Lehman was the lone first-team all-MIAA selection for the Tigers, but wasn't alone in receiving conference honors. Junior point guard Beth Bohuslavsky was named to the third team, with sophomore Jill Faxon and senior Keriann Shaw making honorable mention.
Lehman and Shaw also made the All-Defensive Team.
"We weren't really striving for these individual honors, but we wanted to win games and after winning games that puts us in a position to get these kind of honors," Shaw said. "And that's awesome that Kate got player of the year and defensive player of the year. A lot more honors with Beth and Jill and I, and it just shows defense is a priority for us, too, along with offense. But it's just really exciting for the program."
The five all-conference selections are the most for FHSU since joining the MIAA, and the most since the 2000-01 season when it was part of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
The Tigers will open play at noon Friday in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Tournament, where they will face ninth-seeded Northeastern State University inside Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium. NSU, which lost to FHSU 50-28 in the regular-season finale on Saturday in Tahlequah, Okla., beat No. 8 seed Washburn University 59-46 in the opening round on Tuesday in Topeka.