Tiger women jump into national rankings
By CONOR NICHOLL
Coach Tony Hobson said last week's Thanksgiving tournament at Washburn University wasn't "an easy situation to get ready for" for his Fort Hays State University women's basketball team. The Tigers recorded a hard-fought win against Newman University on Tuesday and then had Thanksgiving, followed by two tough opponents in the tournament.
Plus, some of the team, namely Holton graduate and senior guard Melissa Nelson, were close to home. The Friday contest was in the middle of the afternoon and was the first road/neutral site contest of the year.
"Whoever is more prepared and ready to play wins those games," Hobson said at his weekly news conference Monday.
However, Fort Hays led 48-21 at half and cruised to an 81-52 victory against Arkansas Tech, a strong team that reached No. 1 in the country last year, was undefeated before Friday and featured preseason All-American point guard Roselis Silva.
"I don't know that anybody would have beat us in that first half Friday," Hobson said
On Saturday, FHSU delivered a grind-it-out 63-43 victory against Texas-Permian Basin where it shot just 29 percent from the field. The two wins pushed Fort Hays to 6-0 -- and helped the Tigers achieve their highest national ranking in the Division II era.
On Tuesday, the Tigers ranked No. 23 in the new coaches' rankings. It marks the first time since 1996-97 FHSU is ranked nationally. That season was the only time the women's program collected a national ranking before Tuesday. Fort Hays was ranked No. 25 for two weeks.
FHSU was close to the top 25 last season and was receiving votes this winter.
"Saturday was more of the type of the game that we are going to be in most of the time to where you just have to defend and rebound and try to scratch out points wherever you can," Hobson said. "It was a hard-fought, physical game, and I thought our kids responded well to it."
In addition, sophomore center Kate Lehman earned MIAA Player of the Week honors for the second time in her career. In the three games last week, Lehman had two double-doubles, including a 22-point, 13-rebound, 4-block effort versus Newman.
At the Washburn tournament, she tallied 26 points, 19 rebounds and nine blocks. For the season, Lehman has a team-high 17.7 points and 28 blocks and ranks second to junior Katelyn Edwards with 8.2 rebounds. FHSU has allowed just 44.7 points per game.
"It always help when you have an anchor back there in Kate Lehman," Hobson said.
The Tigers have this week off and won't start conference play until a home game Dec. 5 against University of Central Missouri, a squad on the cusp of the national rankings. Hobson said a week off is fine, but he would prefer not to take 10 days off. Central Missouri doesn't play in the next 10 days either.
"We will just make the best use of it possible," Hobson said.
Hobson said the Tigers have more sets and plays to add in during the break. He estimated FHSU has half of its inbounds play put in. As well, Fort Hays expects to add some to its offense. The Tigers have faced a lot of zone early on, and Central Missouri shouldn't have a lot of film on FHSU's offense against man-to-man defense.
"Central hasn't seen everything that we have done," Hobson said.
One difference between last year's 20-win season and this season is transfer forward Tera Ingalsbe, a reserve.
Last season, senior forward Janel Durler spelled Lehman on the inside, but was more suited to play defense than to score. Ingalsbe has averaged 7.7 points and four rebounds per contest, while shooting 57 percent from the field. She plays just 15 minutes a night. Durler averaged 12 minutes a game last season and collected 1.9 points and 3.7 rebounds.
"I love Janel," Hobson said. "She did for us just exactly what we needed, but Tera is a much better offensive player than she was. I don't have to worry so much about who I have got in there. With Janel, I had to take into account who was in there just because of the lack of scoring and now I don't have to so much."