Tiger win one for the books
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University honored women's basketball coach Tony Hobson for his 500th career victory Monday night before the Tigers' home contest against NAIA University of St. Mary. Hobson, in his sixth year with FHSU and 22nd at the collegiate level, reached the milestone with a 67-53 victory in the Tigers' previous game at Missouri Western State University on Dec. 7.
During Monday's contest, Tiger junior center Kate Lehman collected another milestone when she broke the MIAA career record for blocks. The two highlights punctuated a 100-34 victory at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Lehman blocked six shots and has 265 for her career. Emporia State University's Esmary Vargas-Sanchez had 262 from 2002-05.
Lehman has 45 blocks in eight games this season after she led NCAA Division II with 123 blocks in 29 games last year en route to MIAA Defensive Player of the Year honors. After a slow start to her freshman year, Lehman had a terrific final two and a half months with 96 blocks in 29 games.
"The thing that I have noticed is that her agility has improved tremendously," Hobson said of the 6-foot-4 Lehman. "Just her coordination -- she doesn't look like a big, strong girl, but her strength has increased five times. That all equates into somebody being able to just move and being more agile."
Before the contest, Hobson received a plaque at midcourt presented by FHSU President Edward Hammond. Hobson is 501-166 in his career after Monday's victory, including 88-60 with the Tigers and 7-1 this season.
"His intensity -- even if we do something wrong, he is there to help us and get through it," freshman guard Jill Faxon said.
Hobson has coached at the collegiate level every year since 1997 and also coached Cloud County Community College's women's program from 1983-89.
"You are doing something that you are comfortable doing, and I have been involved with basketball since about the fifth grade on a daily basis, playing, coaching, whatever," Hobson said. "It's one of those things where you kind of find your niche and you do something that you like. You just figure, 'You know what, I am going to keep doing this until I don't want to do it anymore.' "
St. Mary used the game as an exhibition and remained at 1-9 under first-year coach Bruce Erickson. He is originally from Phillipsburg and coached for 24 years at Morland, Ellis and Salina South. Erickson served as director of basketball operations and player development at Oklahoma State University for three years and then was associate head coach at UMKC the last four years. Erickson took the St. Mary job late and had a chance to recruit just a few players, but enjoys coaching at the small college level. Erickson purposefully chose to play probably the KCAC's toughest non-conference schedule, including four NCAA Division II teams. St. Mary recently lost Ebonee Rhymes, who had led the team in scoring and rebounding.
"I don't worry about the record," Erickson said. "Because I have been doing this for 32 years. I want to play tough teams to get better. To play a Fort Hays, you have got to be able to handle the ball and be aggressive, and we are not there yet. We could have played a lot of religious directional schools and come out with a lot more wins, but that wouldn't have got us ready for the KCAC."
Fort Hays never trailed and led 49-17 at halftime. FHSU will play host to Northwest Missouri State University on Saturday in a key home MIAA contest.
"We talked about that before the game - we didn't want to overlook it," Faxon said. "We wanted to come in strong and play how we want to play, and focus on us and execute the things that we need to do."
The entire roster played between nine and 19 minutes. Lehman led the team with her 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Junior Katelyn Edwards also contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Faxon tallied 15 points off the bench. While at Salina South, Erickson coached against Lehman at Newton.
"She is also balanced and she takes good shots," Erickson said. "That's one thing that she has done better at. She takes the shots that she is capable of making, and she doesn't try to force anything, and with her length, she is just being smart. That's what I see - she just plays with a lot of good composure. That's the difference - a lot of times in high school, she would throw up something off-balance."
Lehman had one block in the first half, but recorded two in the first 58 seconds after intermission to tie the mark. With 11 minutes, 22 seconds left in the contest, Lehman broke the record when blocked a jumper from Spires' sophomore forward Erin Marx.
"We have got to play good defense no matter what, but if we do mess up, then we have her back there to help us out," Faxon said.