Landmark victory for Tiger women
By CONOR NICHOLL
Coach Tony Hobson had several comments, personnel numbers and the Tigers women's offensive and defensive schemes written on the whiteboard in the Fort Hays State University locker room.
In the middle, Hobson penned a short line he discussed before Thursday's contest against Emporia State University, the No. 3 ranked team in NCAA Division II.
He said, " 'There is a lot that is written up here on the board,' " senior Katelyn Edwards said. " 'But if here is one thing that I want you to pay attention to,' he said, 'It's time that we take a stand. If not now, when?' "
Then FHSU, helped by outstanding defense and rebounding, delivered arguably one of the best victories in school history with a 72-57 win at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The Tigers led for the final 36 minutes, 55 seconds and built a 20-point second half lead en route to the first win against a top-5 team in the school's NCAA history. FHSU had been 0-13 against top-5 squads.
"It was seriously one of the most fun games that I have ever played in my life," Edwards said.
The Tigers halted a 15-game losing streak against the Hornets, including an 0-10 record in the Hobson era, the only MIAA team he'd never defeated. Fort Hays last beat the Hornets 65-62 in 2002-03 in Hays.
"We just had to do it, we just had to prove it," senior forward Tera Ingalsbe said. "Everyone knows we can do now."
FHSU and ESU each shot 25 of 71 (35.2 percent) from the field, but Fort Hays delivered a 59-42 edge on the glass -- against the No. 1 rebound team nationally at plus-15. Hobson never believed the Tigers could shoot 35 percent and still win by 15.
"It's an energy thing," Hobson said. "We have got the ability and the athletes to rebound if they just put forth the energy. I thought that set the tone for the game was just not letting them dominate the boards like they have on other teams."
Edwards finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Ingalsbe, in her first career start, notched her first double-double when she finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Junior center Kate Lehman recorded 15 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Nikola Kacperska, also in her first start, recorded eight points, three assists and three rebounds, including a rare four-point play.
The lineup switch helped FHSU, receiving votes nationally, end a two-game losing streak in MIAA play and improve to 14-4, 7-4 MIAA.
Emporia State dropped to 18-2, 9-2 MIAA. On Saturday, the Tigers play host to Washburn University in another critical contest at GMC. Start time is 2 p.m.
Hobson had played Ingalsbe, Edwards and Lehman some in practice, but rarely used the trio at the same time in games.
With the Tigers' recent struggles, Kacperska's improved play the last few games and ESU's tall front line, Hobson decided to change. Edwards and junior Keriann Shaw mainly guarded Emporia State's leading scorer, senior Laura Patrick, who finished 3 of 11 for seven points. Junior forward Merissa Quick led the Hornets with 13 points.
"They are so big that I thought by putting both posts and then matching Kate Edwards up with their leading scorer, Patrick, I just thought we'd try it," Hobson said. "Niki has been playing extremely well the last few games, so we'd thought we give her the opportunity to start, and she had a great game."
Ingalsbe noticed a high-energy team in preparing for the Hornets, which opened the season on a 17-game run and lost the rebounding battle in just one contest, a minus-1 differential against Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University on Dec. 18.
"We competed in practice," Ingalsbe said. "In the walkthrough, we were jacking people up."
Edwards scored nine points early and helped FHSU open an 11-4 lead. Fort Hays opened the lead to 23-10 when sophomore point guard Beth Bohuslavsky banked in a trey with 8 minutes, 50 seconds left in the first half.
"Kate had a look about her tonight that I haven't seen very many times, but she had a mean look that I have seen in that family enough," Hobson, a cousin of Edwards, said. "She meant business, and she was just going to do whatever necessary to win the game."
FHSU constantly exuded emotion and displayed fist pumps after multiple made baskets.
"Everybody on the court tonight just was so upbeat and cheering everybody on and hugs and high-fives," Edwards said. "That's been one thing that we've kind of been missing till this point."
Ingalsbe showed excitement after she scored off an offensive rebound and then made a foul shot for a three-point play and a 29-21 lead.
"She is one of the most emotional players on the court," Edwards said. "When she has a big play, it gets everyone fired up, because she just has that energy and that glow. It's just awesome playing with people like that."
With a minute left, the announced crowd of 2,570 stood on its feet to celebrate the victory. When the buzzer sounded, Bohuslavsky raised her left hand in celebration and pounded the basketball on the court.
Ingalsbe turned and hugged assistant coach Talia Miller. When players excited out of the locker room, a group of fans gave each Tiger applause.
"It's just a heck of a good time," Ingalsbe said with a big smile.