Lehman sets record in Tigers' win
By CONOR NICHOLL
ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- Fort Hays State University sophomore center Kate Lehman's career is marked by a huge turnaround about 13 months ago that has vaulted her to the MIAA's elite. Senior guard Melissa Nelson's career features plenty of starts and points, but constant problems with her knee.
The two careers crossed paths within 41 seconds late in the Tigers' 75-63 road win against Lindenwood (Mo.) University on Thursday night at Hyland Arena.
With 2 minutes, 3 seconds remaining, Nelson went down with a knee injury at midcourt.
She had crutches after the game and her status was uncertain for Saturday's road game at Truman State (Mo.) University. Nelson missed all of the 2010-11 season with a knee injury, wasn't fully recovered last winter and tweaked it several times this year.
"It doesn't look good right now," coach Tony Hobson said. "Preliminary, looks like she reinjured it pretty bad, but we don't know for sure, and we won't know until probably (today). Just unfortunate. We are trying to finish a game out, and didn't have the game in the bag by any means, so you can't have all of your people on the bench."
At the 1:22 mark, Lindenwood's Sarah Schneiders drove down the left side. Lehman reached up and blocked the shot. As usual, FHSU recovered possession off the block -- Fort Hays has recovered more than 60 percent of Lehman's career blocks, a high percentage.
The block was Lehman's eighth of the game and 167th of her career. She broke the school record held by Ashlee Gustin, who collected 166 from 2003 to 2007.
Lehman was unaware of the record after the contest, but flashed her usual smile when she heard about the mark.
"It's been awesome," Lehman said. "I have great teammates, coaches, great everything. I have no complaints about anything right now. Hays is like the perfect place for me. Everything about it is awesome."
Fort Hays, which fell out of the national rankings this week for the first time since Nov. 26, improved to 12-4, 4-4 MIAA. The Tigers, still receiving votes, had lost four of its previous five contests before Thursday. Lindenwood, in its first year in the MIAA after it transitioned from NAIA, moved to 4-12, 1-7 MIAA. Schneiders paced the Lions with 17 points.
"We want to win out," Lehman said. "That's our goal, and it had to start tonight."
Last Saturday, Fort Hays lost at then-No. 24 Pittsburg State University 51-48. Lehman and junior Katelyn Edwards, the Tigers' top two scorers, combined to shoot 2 of 25 for six points.
"You've got to change something up, and we shot a lot this week, and worked on different moves to use if we can't score how we usually score," Lehman said.
Lehman started slowly, and picked up two early fouls. She finished the first half with three points, four rebounds and two blocks. Junior Tera Ingalsbe collected 12 points, one off her career high, off the bench. In the first half, she scored five straight points, and then delivered a big screen at the top of the key that led to a 3-pointer from senior Kelsie Sorenson. The flurry gave Fort Hays an early 16-6 lead.
"The second half of the season, Coach is working on us getting other people shots, and they've been trying to do that to me," Ingalsbe said. "But I like setting screens for Kai Brown, that's my favorite thing to do. If I set a screen for her, that allows me to get a shot."
Fort Hays led 34-23 at the break before Lehman delivered another strong finish. She finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and her eight blocks. Edwards finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
On Dec. 30, 2011, Lehman, from Newton, had played sparingly and averaged 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds with 23 blocks.
Since Jan. 2, 2012, Lehman has scored in double figures in all but five games. The PSU loss marked the first time she had scored under seven points since Jan. 2, 2012. Thursday marked the seventh time in Lehman's career she collected at least seven blocks.
"One of the more enjoyable things about coaching kids this age, is just having somebody that's willing to put in the time and the effort, and then watch them improve," Hobson said. "I had a lot of people tell me that had seen her play in high school, 'Hey, man that's a project.' I said, 'Well, a lot of high school kids are.' As long as they are willing to work, there is always a lot of hope."
Nelson finished with seven points and three assists. Known for her speed, Nelson scored on a fast break at the 6:39 mark when Edwards grabbed a rebound. Nelson took off, beat the defense down the court and tallied a wide-open layup. It marked her last basket before her injury.
"Someone else will have to step up," Lehman said. "She is a great shooter, a great defender. We have players who are great shooters or great defenders, so we have to have someone up for the role."