BY KAREN LA PIERRE

klapierre@dailynews.net

With the band playing, black and gold banners flying, and a pumped-up crowd at Gross Memorial Coliseum, the Tiger women raced to the court, ready for a win over the Minnesota State University-Mankato Mavericks on Friday evening.

This is the first time the Fort Hays women have hosted an NCAA Division II regional tournament.

The last time FHSU hosted a regional was the men's tournament in 1996. This is only the third NCAA regional tournament overall held at the coliseum

The No. 1 seeded Tigers rallied after a bad start to beat the No. 8 seeded Mavericks 74-57 in the first round.

The Tigers became members of Division II in 1991-92.

"It's the most exciting thing," to have the historic tournament and an honor, said FHSU President Mirta Martin. "It's the culmination of a very long journey for an incredible group of young women who have played their hearts and souls all while maintaining their academics."

She enjoys watching any activities the students are involved in, and is very thankful for the support of the community.

"We're all one family."

Curtis Hammeke, FHSU athletic director, was excited to have this tournament in Hays.

"It's a great opportunity for our university, our team and our community," he said. The students were pleased to be playing this tournament in front of the home crowd.

Scoring the tournament was "a great result of a lot of hard work of our players and our coaching staff," he said. "I think our community been a great support of this event."

They surprised many by experiencing rousing success this season. For the first time since 1994-95 when they were co-champs of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, they won a regular season conference championship with a near-flawless record in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.

On the other end, MSU-Mankato head coach Emilee Thiesse went the extra mile to make this tournament after a season of hard work. She is nine months pregnant, and her baby girl is due Saturday.

Wearing heels, hose and a dress, Thiesse did not skip standing courtside and encouraging her players.

"It's hard, but it's really rewarding," Thiesse said.

She thought that setting an example for the team was important.

"It's nice for my team to be able to see you can be successful and you can be a hardworking woman. You don't have to sacrifice one for the other.

"It's good for my children to be around such great role models-wonderful young women."

She had two assistant coaches ready in case the baby came early. Plus, her husband is the athletic director and came down with the team.

Her first child, also a girl, was three weeks early.

"We're ready for anything," Thiesse said laughing.

Wearing Maverick purple, Bob and Judy Richardson traveled from Minnesota to enjoy watching their granddaughters play, Britney Scherber and Megan Scherber. They don't attend all of the away games, just the important ones.

"Because they are playing, we're fans," Bob Richardson said.