Tiger women looking to rebound

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Coach Tony Hobson recently examined the rebounding numbers for his Fort Hays State University women's basketball team in the seven conference games since holiday break. The Tigers, 4-3 in that stretch, out-rebounded opponents at the 4 and 5 positions, or power forward and center, by plus-52. Normally, junior Kate Lehman and seniors Katelyn Edwards and Tera Ingalsbe play those positions. The other three spots, or the guard positions, are minus-49 in rebounding margin.

"The rest of the team is getting beat on the boards pretty bad," Hobson said. "With more and more 3-pointers being shot, there is lots of long rebounds, and lots of loose ones that are basically just hustle rebounds, and we are not getting enough of those."

The rebounding disparity and little defensive improvement this season has dropped the Tigers to 13-4, 6-4 MIAA entering "Rivalry Week" with a pair of critical home games Thursday and Saturday against Emporia State University (18-1, 9-1 MIAA) and Washburn University (12-5, 7-3 MIAA) at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Start time is 5:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Saturday. ESU stands No. 3 nationally and ranks No. 1 in rebounding margin at plus-15.

"They are just a solid team," Hobson said. "They don't really wow you, as much as they are just consistent, and they just execute. They don't beat themselves and shoot free throws well. They rebound the heck out of it. They have what you need. They have all the ingredients that you need to be a good team."

FHSU is 0-10 versus the Hornets in the Hobson era, the only MIAA team he has never defeated, and 1-10 versus Washburn. Fort Hays has lost 15 in a row to ESU dating back to 2003-04. The Tigers have never beaten a top-10 team in school annals (0-13).

"It sneaks up in the back of our minds," junior Keriann Shaw said of never beating Emporia. "Just like we just really want to get this, especially because Kate is a senior, it's time to go get it."

FHSU has dropped its last two league games and tumbled from No. 24 in NCAA Division II to receiving two votes in the latest poll released Tuesday.

"Everybody has asked me, 'How do you feel where you are at?'" Hobson said. "What I tell them is, 'If we win our game Thursday, everybody is going to feel really good where we're at.' If you are only one game away from feeling OK about where you are at, then you can't be in that bad of a spot. So we have just to try to concentrate on shoring some things up."

Defense is a key issue for FHSU. Throughout a season, Hobson believes a team doesn't change much offensively. However, because defense is more team-oriented, Hobson wants to see improvement throughout a winter. He's been "disappointed" in the lack of progress.

"I feel like we are comfortable with each other, but the communication is lacking a little bit," Shaw said.

Lehman leads the Tigers with 15.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.3 blocks. She stands ninth in rebounds and first in blocks nationally.

Lehman's 6-foot-4 frame can cover up some mistakes, but Hobson said FHSU has to get better on switches, ball pressure and getting through screens.

"We might be a little better than what we were in December, but I don't think we are markedly any better, and we should be a good notch better, and that's what's hurting us right now," Hobson said. "If we want to stay at the top of the conference, we have got to play well this week."

Laura Patrick paces Emporia State at 14.6 points per contest, while center Merissa Quick has 10.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The Hornets have strong depth, including seven players who average at 7.5 points per game. Desiree Wylie averages a team-high 8.3 rebounds. Hobson picked the Hornets to win the conference in the preseason balloting.

"Emporia is just a very fundamental team," Shaw said. "They do everything right."

Since Jan. 21, 2012, the Tigers are 28-2 at GMC. The only losses came to Emporia State in Senior Night two years ago and versus Washburn last season. FHSU stands third in the league in average attendance at 1,035.

"The community is a big part of Fort Hays, which isn't at a lot of other universities," Shaw said. "When we go travel, sometimes the crowd is just small. But when we come here, we know that they have our back."

Thursday will likely come to defense and rebounding, especially on the perimeter. FHSU is 1-3 when it's outrebounded this season.

"Where they make you pay, and where we are getting beat on the boards is from the guard spot," Hobson said.

Last season, the Tigers had bigger guards with then-seniors Traci Keyser and Kelsie Sorenson.

This season, Fort Hays has several first-year players at guards. Sophomore guard Taylor Chandler, a solid rebounder at 5-foot-5, will miss the next several weeks with a MCL sprain. Shaw has stepped into the starting lineup the last two contests. In the women's game, Hobson sees more rebounds come off deflections than in men's contests. Most rebounds come below shoulder level.

On Saturday, Fort Hays finished minus-17 on the glass in a road loss to Pittsburg State University. On 17 3-point misses, PSU held an 11-6 rebounding edge. One of the missed 3s was one of four offensive rebounds the Gorillas grabbed in a late-game possession.

"Sometimes we have a tendency to, as the shot goes up, when you are out on the perimeter, you stand up and rest, and you just kind of watch, and you are not ready to react, and then it's too late, and they have already recovered it," Hobson said.