After a hectic few days on the road, the Fort Hays State women's basketball team didn't have much of a chance to really celebrate the MIAA championship they clinched after road wins at Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State last week.
But the Tigers should have ample opportunity to let the championship fully sink in this week in front of their home fans, closing out the regular season in Gross Memorial Coliseum with games against Missouri Southern on Thursday night and Pittsburg State on Saturday.
"We were so worried about getting home (in the winter storm) that we didn't celebrate much, other than making sure they were well fed," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. "We haven't really celebrated that much. No. 1, we've been in a good position to win it, so I think it's a little anticlimactic than winning it on like the last day.
"But we will definitely (celebrate the title) this weekend with senior day and some other things going on. They're going to give us the trophy on Thursday night. I don't think it's really sunk in. The kids were really worn out on Sunday when we got back and way behind with their classes. Everybody's kind of still letting it soak in."
Senior forward Tatyana Legette agreed.
"I'm so glad to be home," Legette said. "With the bad weather and everything — we had to stay in McPherson after Saturday afternoon's game — it's good to not be on the bus and to be here and share this with everyone in Hays."
FHSU (25-1, 16-1 MIAA) wrapped up a share of the title with a 70-48 win at UCO on Thursday then won the title outright with a 90-66 victory at Northeastern State on Saturday.
"I was very happy with both games, especially on Thursday night against Central Oklahoma," Hobson said. "I thought we were really dialed in and played with a lot of intensity and were really ready to go. And then to back it up after being on the road for three days, we had a really good second half against Northeastern. Just thought we got good play from everybody."
With the regular-season conference championship and the No. 1 seed in next week's MIAA Tournament in Kansas City already locked up, the Tigers are vying for the chance to host the NCAA Division II Central Regional Tournament. FHSU was No. 1 in last week's first edition of the region rankings but Southwestern Oklahoma State is right on the Tigers heels, ranked No. 2 in the region with just one loss as well. Like Fort Hays, SWOSU's loss also came to Emporia State.
"We all want to host regionals — it's not a secret," Legette said. "And it's not a secret that Southwestern Oklahoma is right below us with one loss as well. It's just important to us that we get to (host the regional) because having a homecourt advantage does help. I think it would be really great if we could have a lot of people here to watch us go out there and do what we do best, which is play basketball."
Missouri Southern enters just 13-14 overall and 5-12 in the MIAA, but the Lions' 77-63 home win over Pittsburg State last Tuesday caught Hobson's attention. The Tigers beat Southern 72-57 in the previous matchup on Feb. 9 in Joplin. Chelsea Henry leads the Lions with 16.6 points per game.
"Southern gave us a good game down at their place," Hobson said. "They're just kind of a physical team that really rebounds well. They played us tough. With Southern, you just really have to execute because they're really going to pressure us. They're a good, solid team."
Tipoff for Thursday's game is set for 5:30 p.m.
FHSU MEN SET FOR TOUGH TEST AGAINST SOUTHERN
The Fort Hays State men don't have much at stake seeding-wise for the MIAA Tournament, but a pair of wins this week against Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State could go a long way in giving the Tigers a jolt heading into next week's conference tournament.
The Tigers (16-10, 10-7 MIAA) are locked into either the No. 4 seed or No. 5 seed for the MIAA and have secured their spot in the MIAA Tournament quarterfinals. But a win Thursday against No. 25 Missouri Southern would be a big confidence boost.
"We're a team that's hoping to find our stride a little more here late in the season," FHSU senior point guard Kyler Kinnamon said. "We're not worn out, we're ready to keep playing. Getting these two home wins would be really big in keeping our momentum going."
Fort Hays State split its games on the Oklahoma swing last week, pulling out a 69-66 win over Central Oklahoma before taking a 72-62 loss at Northeastern State.
"Jared (Vitztum) played well, hit a big three in the last minute (against UCO)," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said. "Brady (Werth) was good all weekend. Devin (Davis) did some really good things for us. It was an important win for us — gave us momentum going into Saturday and really kind of clinched us making sure that we had a bye (in the first round of the conference tournament).
"The Northeastern game, I thought we played really hard, thought we guarded. You just got to be able to score more than we did. It's hard to sustain that kind of energy on the defensive effort (on the road). Home teams find a way to overcome, at times, a struggling offensive night. We needed to score more and were just not able to do that."
Southern (22-5, 13-4 MIAA) is led by post player Cam Martin, who averages 21.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
"Cam Martin inside is a physical specimen that's usually not in our league," Johnson said. "He is a very talented post player — 6-9, strong, athletic, can step out and shoot the three. He's probably one of the more gifted players to put on a uniform and play in our league. That's how good this kid is.
"And then they surround him with great players. Elyjah Clark is the school record holder at Missouri Southern for 3-pointers made. They have a great inside presence and they surround him with shooters at every position. It's kind of pick your poison when you're playing against them."
Southern handed the Tigers a 78-66 loss in the first meeting in Joplin.
"I thought we guarded them pretty well until the end," Johnson said. "It's just human nature sometimes when you're struggling offensively, it bleeds into your defense. I thought in the last 10 minutes of the game we had a letdown defensively because we were so bad offensively.
"They play that zone — it's a little bit of that Baylor zone — and we got to do better offensively. We got to be able to execute and get the ball to the high post."
Thursday's men's game will follow the women's contest with tipoff at about 7:30 p.m.