Tiger women eager for chance to play MIAA tourney at home

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Fort Hays State's Whitney Randall enters the MIAA Tournament just four points off the 1,000-point mark for her career. The Tigers will open the tournament against Missouri Southern at 6 p.m. in Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Fort Hays State's Jessie Sallach shoots a jumper against Missouri Western earlier this season in Gross Memorial Coliseum.

The MIAA women's basketball regular-season championship came with an added perk this year.

By virtue of winning the title outright, Fort Hays State will also have the chance to play on its home floor for all three rounds of the MIAA Tournament. 

The No. 5-ranked Tigers (20-2) will open the conference tournament against Missouri Southern at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Gross Memorial Coliseum. If the Tigers advance to the weekend, Fort Hays, as the highest remaining seed, would host the semifinals on Saturday and the championship game on Sunday.

"It's kind of a neat year to win it because the winner (can host) the tournament," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. "We've never done this before; we've always went to Kansas City. This is the perfect year to win the conference, I think.

"Now our fans don't have to go to Kansas City. They can come right here and see it, and it should give us a little bit of an advantage during the games."

The Tigers sewed up their third MIAA championship last week. They clinched a share of the title on Thursday with a 77-69 win at Missouri, and then won it outright with a  70-47 win at Northwest Missouri on Saturday. 

After back-to-back losses to Emporia State and Central Missouri knocked the Tigers to 5-2 in early January, Fort Hays has reeled off 15 straight wins. 

"It was hard to see, at the point, being 20-2 and winning the conference," Hobson said. "But our kids just did a good job of keeping their heads down and dealing with the different scenarios, game schedules, playing five games in 10 days, and the travel. We've done a good job team-wise of dealing with the different obstacles this season has presented.

"It's been a surprise, kind of, and it is special."

However, the Tigers mood has been tempered by another injury to a starter. 

Freshman guard Sydney Golladay left the Northwest Missouri game with a knee injury and is feared to be out for the postseason. 

The Tigers are already without starting junior forward Cydney Bergmann, who suffered a knee injury last month. 

"We should be celebrating from the top of the highest building in Hays ... but instead there's just kind of a damper," Hobson said. "There's just kind of a subdued atmosphere because we have these injuries we're dealing with."

Golladay has started all 22 games, averaging 4.5 points and 2.1 assists. 

"We're going to have to look for another secondary ballhandler that Sydney Golladay provided," Hobson said. "And Cydney Bergmann, she's hard to replace. We have good players off the bench, but then it's get to a point, who replaces them? You just get thin. 

"We'll do the best we can. You get into these tournaments where you're playing three games in five days, hopefully, and then your depth comes into play. We'll see how that factors out."

Senior Whitney Randall, the current MIAA women's basketball athlete of the week, is playing the best basketball of her career, Hobson said. 

"She's just taken it to new heights," Hobson said. "She's more consistent. She's always been capable of scoring, but she's playing a different level of defense for us. She's rebounding the ball at a level she hasn't before. Just kind of tying it in all together."

Randall, averaging 16 points and 4.6 rebounds, enters the MIAA Tournament four points shy of eclipsing the 1,000 point mark for her career. 

Missouri Southern (9-13) is coming off back-to-back wins over Washburn (59-51) and Central Oklahoma (67-57). 

"They're kind of a rough and tumble bunch," Hobson said of the Lions. "They're physical. They do play a lot of kids so they're pretty deep. They'll play straight man (defense). I think with them if you don't get run over, if you don't get beat physically as far as on the boards and getting through screens and things like that, you're usually OK. 

"We just have to be ready to go and play with a lot of energy."

In the other three quarterfinals, No. 2 Central Missouri hosts No. 7 Washburn, No. 3 Nebraska-Kearney hosts No. 6 Pittsburg State and No. 4 Emporia State hosts No. 5 Central Oklahoma. 

With a win against Southern, the Tigers would play the Emporia State-UCO winner on Saturday in Hays.