By AUSTIN COLBERT
As Kate Lehman's backup, Fort Hays State University's Elle Stein literally has some big shoes to fill when she is put on the court. But as someone who also has to compete against Lehman, the two-time reigning MIAA Defensive Player of the Year, each day in practice, it shouldn't be surprising when she is able to hold her own against outside competition.
"I definitely get stuffed a few times in practice. I definitely work on post moves a lot," Stein said with a laugh. "This was just one of those games where the rebounds just kind of came to me. I didn't have giants I had to box out all the time. But it was good."
Stein, a 6-foot junior forward/center from Spearville who spent the previous two seasons playing at Pratt Community College, recorded her first career double-double as a Tiger on Sunday in their 94-44 win over NAIA Missouri Valley College at Gross Memorial Coliseum. While her 11 points and 10 rebounds didn't quite touch the 28 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks Lehman had, Stein still proved she is going to be a valuable asset off the bench for the FHSU women's basketball team the remainder of the season.
"Especially against teams that aren't overly tall, Elle is a real force in there. She did a good job for us as far as she cleans up a lot of messes," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. "First half she got a couple good offensive rebounds and stick backs. Got fouled a couple of times and made her free throws. As far as being a backup five, I don't know anybody that's got a better one than us."
FHSU had little trouble against the Vikings (5-7), holding them to just 25.4 percent from the floor and forcing 18 turnovers. The Tigers' offense was efficient with 24 assists on 35 made shots (46.7 percent) to only eight turnovers.
Considering the game was played on a quiet and rainy Sunday afternoon against a lower-level opponent, Hobson was especially happy to see the team come out and play with so much mental fortitude.
"I was just worried about us showing up and playing with some energy and being halfway focused. And we were definitely that," Hobson said. "You are moving the ball and passing the ball and that's what I wanted us to do. ... We actually tried to execute a few things we haven't ran very much of and got a chance to do that. I liked the way we focused in a tough situation today."
The Tigers' lead steadily grew all game, going from a nine-point advantage less than four minutes in, to a 19-point lead at the under-10 timeout, to 48-19 by halftime. Lehman already had 18 points and seven rebounds at the break, while Stein was nearly to her double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
Hobson played around with the lineup a lot in the second half. He didn't necessarily remove all his starters in favor of the backups, but mixed and matched, allowing players like Lehman to play alongside younger plays like freshman Kristin Huser, at least for a short time.
"A lot of times I see teams as I watch a lot of games, they'll sub in and put five people that don't play a lot of minutes and put them all in there together and wonder why it doesn't work very well," Hobson said. "If you mix one or two kids in with kids that are accustomed to playing that aren't jittery because they are out there, a lot of times you don't notice a whole heck of a lot of difference when they are good players to begin with."
Junior guard Chelsea Mason finished with 16 points for the Tigers, second to only Lehman's 28. Rayna Smith was the only MVC player in double figures with 11 points.
FHSU, now 8-1 and winners of seven straight, will play one final non-conference game at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday against Kansas Wesleyan at GMC. The men play that same night against Bethany College.
The Tigers, which are already 2-0 in MIAA play, return to conference action on Saturday with a game at Northwest Missouri State.