Now in his 10th season as the head coach of the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team, Tony Hobson spent the first several years reading and hearing about how there were certain programs in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association that were nearly untouchable.
It was tough enough to beat the likes of MIAA powerhouses Washburn University and Emporia State University – the Tigers two opponents this week — let alone beating the MIAA’s best on the road.
Each time the Tigers took a trip to Topeka or Emporia, it was the same thing. The Tigers hadn’t won there in decades — though they hadn’t played there regularly until joining the MIAA — and it was going to take a monumental performance to get it done.
That idea now is gone. If anything, the Tigers now can be considered a favorite no matter where they go.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to take FHSU’s best effort this week to keep a strong start going on the road.
FHSU, 7-0 and 2-0 in the MIAA, travels to Topeka on Wednesday for a 5:30 p.m. showdown with Washburn (6-1) for the Ichabods’ MIAA opener.
“We’ve got over the stigma of not being able to win in certain places,” Hobson said. “When you hear that it puts a little doubt in your mind. You can’t say that anymore.”
The Tigers have won their last two meetings in Topeka with narrow margins. Last season, FHSU held on for a 61-60 victory, and in 2014-15 grabbed a 62-58 win.
With the confidence of a pair of big conference victories against Missouri Southern State University and then No. 19 ranked Pittsburg State University, FHSU is feeling cautiously confident about being able to come away with two more this week.
“Right now, I would say maybe we’re a little ahead of where I thought we might be,” Hobson said Monday, referring to the youth of his team, which boasts just one senior. “Mainly because we have two or three kids playing at a really high level.”
After a relatively soft schedule through five games, Hobson was a little worried about how his group would respond when it came time for MIAA action. The Tigers reacted fine by taking out a solid Lions team and a perennial MIAA power in the Gorillas.
“I thought we would struggle a little bit in the beginning,” Tiger junior point guard Carly Heim said. “But we’re doing a lot better than I thought we would. We have two big games coming up so that will be another good test.”
The Tigers have benefitted from strong play from junior Tatyana Legette and sophomore Kacey Kennett. The duo combines for more than 30 points per contest. Kennett also grabbed the MIAA Athlete of the Week honors, the second time a Tiger has garnered the conference’s weekly handout.
“Tatyana is playing really well and consistently well,” Hobson said. “Kacey Kennett is playing beyond her years. She can explode at any time and hit a lot of 3s.”
That was especially true in the latest test against Pitt State where Kennett drained five 3s and dropped in 20 points to fuel FHSU’s victory. Taylor Rolfs, the sophomore out of Claflin, is adding 11.3 points per outing as well, while Heim and freshman Whitney Clampitt have provided a nice scoring compliment.
“Things are moving right along, but we still have a lot of work to do,“ said Heim. “It’s only the beginning of the season.”
Washburn (6-1) is coming off a 52-45 loss to Newman in Wichita, a team the Tigers defeated by 16 at home. The Ichabods are led by 14 points per night from Reagan Phelan, a teammate of Rolfs from Central Plains High School.
“These (games) are just grinders,” Hobson said. “You just want to go there and play well. If you don’t, you have no chance.”