Tiger women’s team eager to see freshmen in action

Rick Peterson Jr.
Fort Hays State University's Whitney Randall drives toward the basket against Washburn's Hunter Bentley during a game last season at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays. The TIgers will open the season against Washburn at home on Thursday.

With six freshmen clamoring to make their college debuts and a motivated group of returners, Tony Hobson could sense the anticipation when game week arrived for the Fort Hays State women’s basketball team.

“I could even tell a difference (Monday) in practice,” said Hobson, who is entering his 13th year guiding the Tigers. “Our freshmen are kind of skittish and looking forward to something different, and our returners have been looking forward to this for a long time, especially after getting shut down last year. You can definitely feel kind of an air of excitement around our group right now.”

The wait will be over on Thursday when the Tigers kick off a 22-game all-conference slate by facing Washburn at 5:30 p.m. in Gross Memorial Coliseum. Attendance will be limited to about 25% capacity.

Hobson is eager to see how his newcomers will perform in their college debuts without the benefit of any tune-ups.

“I feel like they’re very composed for freshmen, but we haven’t played a conference game, we haven’t played in front of a crowd, so who knows?” Hobson said.

FHSU will rely heavily on its returners, led by senior point guard Jaden Hobbs, senior forward Whitney Randall, senior guard Madison Mittie and junior forward Cydney Bergmann. The Tigers went 23-7 last year and qualified for the NCAA Division II regional before it was canceled.

“Especially early, until we got a feel for everything, I think you have to lean on those (returners),” Hobson said.

FHSU’s newcomers will have opportunities to log significant minutes, Hobson said.

The Tigers added some size in the post with 6-foot-3 Olivia Hollenbeck (Lincoln, Neb.) and 6-foot-1 Jessie Sallach (Callaway, Neb.).

“Olivia is a good defensive player, she blocks a lot of shots,” Hobson said. “She’s really long inside. Jessica is a very skilled kid; she came from a small school where she was asked to do a lot of things, including getting the ball up court sometimes, so she handles it really well — really good passer.

“The physicality that the young post players are going to see in our conference, especially when you start out with Washburn, who’s always physical, it’s going to be a big adjustment for them.”

Katie Wagner, a 5-11 Maize product will play the 3 and 4 spots.

“Probably our team’s best rebounder,” Hobson said of Wagner. “She goes to the boards every time. She’s relentless. Really works hard and is athletic enough and jumps well enough that in all the intrasquad scrimmages we’ve had, she’s led us in rebounding every time.”

The freshmen guards are Sydney Golladay (5-8, Fremont, Neb.), and Emma Ruddle (5-8, McPherson), Carly Thompson (6-0, Greenwood Village, Colo.)

“(Golladay is) a very good defender for a freshman,” Hobson said. “Shoots the 3 well, handles it well. She will see some time at both positions.

Hobson said Ruddle is a “a superb athlete. Just a great on-ball defender. Runs the floor well and just very athletic.”

Thompson is “very fast, rangy, the kind of guards we’ve kind of had the last few years,” Hobson said. “She comes from a great program and is another talented kid.

“Real heralded class. They have an opportunity to play a lot of minutes for us.“

Hobson will look for the Tigers to play within themselves Thursday.

“What we have to do is not get ahead of ourselves and not try to do things we’re not capable of doing and not ready to do,” he said. “Sometimes you get a team that’s so ready to roll that they try to force things ... we just don’t want to force. We just want to take what comes to us. Hopefully we have enough control with some of our returners that we’ll be able to do that.”

Washburn will be a tough scouting report for the Tigers. The Ichabods have just a couple of players who saw significant time last season.

Hunter Bentley is the team’s leading returning scorer after averaging 13 a year ago. WU is coming off an 18-12 season.

“All you can is go by past things that they’ve done, their staples in their offense and defense,” Hobson said. “You assume that it will be similar, but again, you don’t know for sure.

“... Probably at this point we worry a little bit more about ourselves than the other team, because we don’t have enough information to really help us out that much.”