Tiger women reach 20 wins, advance to MIAA quarters
By CONOR NICHOLL
Three years ago, 6-foot-4 Kate Lehman came to Fort Hays State University from Newton High School. Then-sophomore Katelyn Edwards transferred in from NCAA Division I University of South Dakota. Keriann Shaw joined the Tigers as a freshman after graduating from Sandy Creek (Neb.).
Edwards and Lehman earned all-conference honors and Shaw played a key role with defense and rebounding as the Tigers went 20-9, the school's first 20-win season since 2005-06. Last season, the trio helped FHSU to a 22-7 record.
This winter, Lehman, Edwards and Shaw, now the veterans, have continued in their same role. On Monday, Fort Hays defeated University of Nebraska-Kearney 88-68 in the first round of the MIAA conference tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
FHSU, receiving votes in the national poll and ranked No. 10 in the Central Region, moved to 20-7 and set a school record with three straight 20-win seasons.
"You don't have to look very far to understand why," coach Tony Hobson said. "We have been consistent, and if you look at the players that showed up here three years ago. That was Keriann, Kate Lehman and Kate Edwards, who are three of the more consistent players that you will ever see and work hard everyday in the weight room, and postseason and preseason -- and everybody follows them."
FHSU completed the home schedule with a 15-1 record and moved to 41-5 at GMC in the last three years. Fort Hays has won eight straight against Kearney, including three this season and six times in the last three years.
"Whenever you make history, it's always a good feeling," sophomore point guard Beth Bohuslavsky said. "We always have a goal -- we want to get 20 wins in a season. We accomplished that, but obviously we always strive for more than 20. It's a big deal to us."
The Tigers, the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament, will play No. 4-seeded Missouri Southern State University in the quarterfinals Thursday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. Start time is 2:15 p.m.
No. 12 seed UNK, paced by 16 points from sophomore Laramey Lewis, finished the year 10-17. FHSU lost 76-71 at Mo. Southern on Jan. 4 in the team's lone meeting.
"We felt like we probably should have won that game," Bohuslavsky said. "Ball didn't go our way. Now's the time to get them back."
On Monday afternoon, Lehman collected unanimous first team all-MIAA and league Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight year. Edwards picked up third team for the second straight season after she was second team as a sophomore. Bohuslavsky earned honorable mention for the first time in her career.
Then, Lehman finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, while Edwards had 11 points and six rebounds. Shaw finished with two points, two rebounds and five steals. She again contained another top scorer when she limited UNK's Shelby Zimmerman to six points on 3 of 9 shooting and eight turnovers.
Sophomore Chelsea Mason delivered a game-high 18 points, while Bohuslavsky collected 14. FHSU held a 47-25 edge in bench points.
"Honestly, it's been really awesome," said Mason, a first-year transfer from Division I Kennesaw State (Ga.) University. "I really don't want it to end. I wish it could go on forever. This is honestly, the best team that I have ever played with. It's a blessing that I have the chance to play with them."
Mason entered the game averaging 12.8 points per contest, tied with Northwest Missouri State University's Ashleigh Nelson for 16th on the league list. They were the lone scorers ranked in the top-20 who didn't earn all-conference.
At times this season, Mason has struggled mentally, but has relied on her teammates to help.
"Sometimes I am just thinking of too much, but then my teammates are there to be like, 'Just shoot it, just do what you do best, we trust you, and we believe in you,'" Mason said. "I pretty much do everything for my teammates, because they trust me."
Mason entered the game at the 14 minute, 28 second mark and the score tied at eight. UNK went on a 5-0 run to take a 13-8 lead. Then, Mason scored six straight points to key a 27-3 run that put the game out of reach. Bohuslavsky called FHSU "10 times better" when Mason is hitting shots.
"It seems like when she is hitting a few perimeter shots, then that's when we are able to stretch our leads," Hobson said. "If she is not, it seems like we wallow around at that six or seven point margin, but when she hits a couple, it loosens everything else up."
At 16-13, Mason continued her surge with a jumper and then a trey. Once in the second half, Mason set up in the right corner. She called for the ball twice and, with a UNK defender close by, received a pass and sunk another 3 for her 45th trey of the season, tied for 10th on the all-time list.
"When I am playing really good, my mind is clear," Mason said. "Sometimes when I am struggling, it's because I am thinking too much. ... Today, I just cleared my head and everything went good."