The Fort Hays State women’s basketball team was tabbed fifth in the MIAA preseason coaches poll released Tuesday while the FHSU men were tied for seventh.
Both Tiger teams will open the season on Nov. 19 against Washburn at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Newcomers will be thrown into the fire for both squads.
The FHSU men have four true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen on its roster, while the Tiger women have six true freshmen this year.
"We’ve seen a lot of improvement (from the freshmen)," said 20th-year FHSU men’s head coach Mark Johnson during MIAA Virtual Media Day on Tuesday. "Obviously they’re not where they need to be, but if they continue to make the strides, they’re going to be good players. I don’t think talent is an issue, it’s just making that adjustment from going to high school basketball to the MIAA. But we’re confident they can do it."
FHSU women’s coach Tony Hobson feels the same way about his freshmen class.
"For us, there’s a negative part that we have a bunch of freshmen, but the positive is that our freshmen are really good, as far as freshmen go," said Hobson, entering his 12th year at FHSU. "We have a couple freshman post players who are solid players and have good size, but even practices aren’t going to replicate what they’re going to see, so I think that’s a big adjustment for post players coming out of high school.
"... We do have some kids that can step in right away and contribute, and they’ll have to. They will get that opportunity."
On the men’s side, Northwest Missouri was picked to win the conference with 13 first-place votes and 169 points total. Missouri Southern was second with one first-place vote and 147 total points and Washburn third with 140 points.
Rogers State (123), Missouri Western (122), Central Oklahoma (106) were picked fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State tied for seventh in the poll with 75 points.
The Tiger men are looking to bounce back after going 14-14 overall and 7-12 in the MIAA last year, missing the conference tournament.
TMP product Jared Vitztum will look to lead the Tigers after earning third-team MIAA honors last year. He averaged a team-high 14.6 points per game.
Returning starting point guard Nyjee Wright is expected to miss the first semester of play as he recovers from foot surgery.
Redshirt freshman Kaleb Hammeke and true freshman Quinten Rock will look to fill the void until Wright returns.
"We’re probably going to be even younger than we anticipated, having to play some young guys right away," Johnson said. "I think they’re ready for it. As a group, we’re all ready to get the season started."
The Tigers’ true freshmen are Rock, a 6-foot guard out of Aurora, Colo.; Traejon Davis, a 6-5 guard from Oklahoma City; Haggan Hilgendorf, a 6-10 forward from Hastings, Neb.; and Elijah Nnanabu, a 6-3 freshman from Seattle. Nnanabu is expected to redshirt.
Emporia State was voted as the favorite on the women’s side, receiving 153 total points with four first-place votes. Nebraska-Kearney took six first-place votes and 146 overall points. Central Missouri was third with 143 points and three first-place votes. Pittsburg State received 140 points for fourth.
The Tigers rounded out the top-five with one first-place vote and 125 points.
The FHSU women went 23-7 (13-6 MIAA) last year and qualified for a third-straight trip to the NCAA Division II Central Region Championship before the tournament was canceled.
The Tigers return two starters — senior point guard Jaden Hobbs and senior forward Whitney Randall.
Hobbs earned All-MIAA third-team honors last year after leading the team with 12.6 points and 4.7 assists per game. Senior guard Madison Mittie and junior forward Cydney Bergmann are back after playing key roles off the bench.
The true freshmen are 5-foot-8 guard Sydney Golladay (Fremont, Neb.), 6-foot guard Carly Thompson (Greenwood Village, Colo.), 5-11 guard Katie Wagner (Maize High School), 5-8 guard Emma Ruddle (McPherson High School), 6-3 forward Olivia Hollenbeck (Lincoln, Neb.) and 6-1 forward Jessie Sallach (Callaway, Neb).
"We’re hoping we can mix the experience in with the young kids," Hobson said. "We haven’t started a freshmen here for five years ... so we’ve always had a lot of experience on the floor and could kind of mix those freshmen in. It’s probably not going to be like that this year."
2020-2021 MIAA Coaches Preseason Polls
1. Northwest Missouri (13), 169 points; 2. Missouri Southern (1), 147; 3. Washburn, 140; 4. Rogers State, 123; 5. Missouri Western, 122; 6. Central Oklahoma, 106; 7. (tie) Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State, 75; 9. Lincoln, 67; 10. Nebraska-Kearney, 64; 11. Central Missouri, 60; 12. Emporia State, 56; 13. Northeastern State, 55; 14. Newman, 17.
1. Emporia State (4), 153 points; 2. Nebraska Kearney (6), 146; 3. Central Missouri (3), 143; 4. Pittsburg State, 140; 5. Fort Hays State (1), 125; 6. Missouri Western, 109; 7. Central Oklahoma, 104; 8. Washburn, 79; 9. Northwest Missouri, 76; 10. Missouri Southern, 65; 11. Newman, 55; 12. Northeastern State, 37; 13. Rogers State, 28; 14. Lincoln, 14.