Having only four upperclassmen on the roster could pose a bit of a challenge for most coaches and teams, especially at the NCAA Division II ranks.
But Fort Hays State University women’s basketball coach Tony Hobson knows games like Friday night against University of Colorado-Colorado Springs can do nothing but help a young team.
The young Tigers got off to a fast start against the Mountain Lions, building confidence early in an 81-51 rout at Gross Memorial Coliseum in the team’s home opener.
“It allows them to then relax and not play with so much pressure when you build a lead like that,” Hobson said. “Especially when you have a couple freshman coming off the bench right away because we have two guards out with injuries. I think that takes a little pressure off them to come in and play loose — which is good.”
Fort Hays’ upperclassmen list even was smaller Friday, with junior guard Gokce Aslan out with injury.
It didn’t matter much, though, as the Tigers raced out of the gates early firing on all cylinders.
Sophomore Taylor Rolfs hit three 3-pointers in the first few minutes of the contest, pushing the Tiger advantage to 15-7 early in the first quarter.
“I think it was good because as long as you come out hot like that, it really makes the other team lower their heads a little bit,” said Rolfs, who finished with 15 points. “That helps defensively for us. But I just went out there and threw them up.”
The opponents’ heads could have been any lower after the start, especially after junior Tatyana Legette followed with another 3-pointer to make it 18-7.
“It is very important to not get big heads when you get up by that much,” said Legette, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. “I think we do a good job of doing that, especially for how young we are. It would be very easy for us to be like, ‘Oh, we’re up by so much,’ and get out of it. I think for the most part, we were focused and ready to play. It was the home opener, and we were ready to show what we can do and that we were confident and could do all those things.”
When the first quarter ended, the Tigers held a comfortable 36-13 lead, setting a new MIAA record for points scored in a quarter. To put it in perspective of just how dominant FHSU was, Colorado Springs didn’t eclipse more than 35 until the start of the fourth quarter.
“When the ball is going in the basket like that, everything looks so pretty,” said Hobson, who is guiding the youngest team he’s had in 10 seasons at the helm at FHSU. “We made one or two passes and were getting good shots and making everything. Then when they quit pressing, we quit getting those early looks and our execution wasn’t great the rest of the game. But it’s hard to come out when you’re up 25 in the first quarter and maintain that intensity. And we were mixing it up and playing a lot of people. But we were ready to play, and it worked out well.”
Fort Hays (3-0) got a boost from its young players early with Rolfs hitting from long range and freshman Whitney Clampitt tallying 11 of her 19 points by halftime as the Tigers led 52-28 at the break.
“It definitely helps our confidence, not just me but everyone,” Rolfs said about the hot start. “They have trust in me when I’m making shots, and I trust them if everyone else is making shots. It really helps the whole team when some of us just start off good immediately.”
The Mountain Lions (0-3) would come no closer than 25 points in the second half, and FHSU’s lead grew to as many as 36 as it improved to 3-0.
“I think, for the most part, it’s very important to get a good start like that,” Legette said. “It’s important to get a lead like that because when another team gets into a sequence like that of shooting over and over and making them, it’s important we have that lead and can come back from it.”
The Tigers shot 62 percent in the first quarter and 40 percent for the game while limiting Colorado Springs to only 29 percent shooting for the game. The FHSU defense allowed their opponents to make only two of 22 field goals in the third quarter, limiting the Mountain Lions to seven points in the period.
“In this league, it’s hard to survive unless your sophomores and freshman are pretty good with that much youth,” Hobson said. “Luckily, our upperclassmen are pretty good — Carly, Tatyana and Emma. They’ve been around the block. They’ll be able to lead us.”
While the Tigers might be young — Emma Stroyan is the lone senior on the roster and started her first game of the season Friday — it hasn’t hampered FHSU early this year. FHSU’s average margin of victory in three games after Friday was 35 points per outing.
“We have set goals, and we plan on making those goals, obviously,” Legette said. “But for us being as young as we are, it gives us even more focus and initiative as well. I love my team, and I think for the three freshman that are here, they really stepped up. And the six sophomores, they did a really good job of being focused and not being down on themselves if they miss a shot and just move on to the next play.”
Sophomore Kacey Kennett added 14 points and four rebounds for the Tigers, who forced 26 turnovers by the Mountain Lions. UCCS had only one player in double figures — Maddie Golla with 10.
Despite being a relatively young squad, the bar is set high for the Tigers this year after reaching the regional tournament two of the last three seasons under Hobson.
Friday’s demolishing of Colorado Springs showed a good example of what the future might hold for FHSU.
“That’s what I told them,” the coach said about high expectations. “It’s kind of a curse when you’re like me and never satisfied. But that’s how you have to be because farther down the road, you’re going to have to be better than we were tonight — especially defensively. Our kids understand that and are happy with the way we got off to a good start. But they’re not necessarily that happy with the last couple quarters because I thought it got a little sloppy. But it’s hard to maintain that intensity.”