Mason adds key element for Tiger women
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University sophomore guard Chelsea Mason, in her first year after transferring from NCAA Division I Kennesaw State (Ga.) University, tallied 32 points in her season debut. The performance, a road game against Northwestern Oklahoma State University on Nov. 13, yielded 32 points, still the most among MIAA women's basketball players.
Since then, Mason delivered 11, 7, 15, 11, 6, 7 and 10 points. Only once did she shoot more than 43 percent in a contest.
"She is pretty streaky," coach Tony Hobson said. "She plays with a lot of confidence."
On Dec. 21, Mason, with her left-handed shot with plenty of spin, had a hot streak.
She tallied a team-high 23 points in a 79-69 double-overtime home victory against Northwest Missouri State University, the Tigers' last game before holiday break. The win moved Fort Hays to 8-1, 2-1 MIAA. Mason finished 10 of 22 from the field, including 2 of 6 from 3-point range. Mason keyed an 8-0 run to start the second overtime with a trey and a jumper.
"It was just a sense of urgency," Mason said. "I felt like I needed to make my 3s and shoot them for my team."
At the start of the second overtime, FHSU was tied at 65. Freshman guard Niki Kacperska made a trey to give Fort Hays a 3-point lead. Twenty-eight seconds later, Mason made her jumper. Twenty-six seconds after that, Mason hit her 3 and effectively put the game out of reach.
"I am not sure that anybody else would have took that first 3 in double overtime after Niki hit one," Hobson said.
Hobson wanted to work the ball inside to junior center Kate Lehman, who collected MIAA Player of the Week honors following a 21-point, 17-rebound performance versus the Bearcats. Lehman leads FHSU with 15.9 points and 11.8 rebounds. Instead, Mason created her own offense.
"She had other plans," Hobson said. "That's OK, because when you feel it, they know when they feel it. The key is, they know the difference of when they should take it and when they shouldn't. I think if she hadn't made that shot, I don't think she would have took the next one."
Mason's competitiveness and offense has produced 13.6 points per contest and a team-high 16 3-pointers. Her shooting is an improvement from last year's 22-7 squad that had no guard average more than 7.3 points per game. Only one player, guard Traci Keyser, hit more than 22 3s.
"Confidence -- that's what you need in close games," Hobson said. "You have got to have a kid that is not afraid to fail, because that's a possibility. You might miss it, you might lose. ... I think that we have got several on our team that are willing to take the risk."
This weekend, FHSU resumes action with a three-day, two-city road swing against Missouri Southern State University (8-2, 2-1 MIAA) and Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University (6-4, 1-2 MIAA). Start time is 1 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Monday. Missouri Southern's Dominique Mosley stands fourth in the conference at 18 points per contest, and SBU's Brook Duncan ranks fifth at 17.6 points per game.
FHSU didn't make this road swing last season, but went 2-0 two years ago.
The 5-foot-9 Mason is from Bellevue, Neb. who averaged 9.5 points and 4.3 rebounds last season for Kennesaw State. She started after the start of December, and was Atlantic Sun Newcomer of the Year three times.
"I like it so much better here," Mason said. "I love it. I am so glad that I left my other school, and I am so blessed to be here."
Once a player shoots the ball, the laces are normally partially shown as the ball spins through its arc. However, Mason puts such dramatic spin on the ball that the laces are just a blur.
"I want to have the ball like how it spins backwards perfect," she said. "That's just how I do it. I don't know why, but it just looks good to me."
Last year, the offense revolved mainly around Lehman and guard Katelyn Edwards. This season, the Kates still rank 1-2 in points and rebounds, but Mason provides another scoring option.
"What do you do with Chelsea when she is hot?" Hobson said. "One on one, you can't stop her. There is really nobody. We have got a couple of really good defenders on our team, and in practice, there is nobody that can stop her 1-on-1 when she is hot, when you have got to guard the 3."