BY MAKENNA ALLEN
Tiger Basketball is on the road again as both the men’s and women’s teams head to Wichita to take on the Newman University Jets on Saturday. Both teams will be looking to continue a season that has been dramatically altered by COVID-19 and the protocols required by the NCAA.
Perhaps the women’s basketball team has felt the impact of these protocols most of all. In fact, they have only played one game thus far. After the postponement of the first week of games as well as last week’s game on the road against Nebraska-Kearney, the team is currently 1-0 but is hoping to gain game experience this week.
“We have not played a game yet that is scheduled. The only game we’ve had is a make-up date,” women’s head coach, Tony Hobson, said. “And we’ve had practice where we need games to try to find out what to do as a team and where to move on from and what to work on and things like that.”
According to Hobson, this lack of ability to play other teams has proved challenging for his players and the team as a whole.
“There’s the boredom factor,” Hobson said. “It’s really tough when you don’t know what day you’re going to play or sometimes who you’re going to play.”
For this coach, just one goal in preparing for this weekend’s game is maintaining focus on what lies ahead.
“The mental aspect of trying to stay ready, stay focused, stay excited has been really difficult and I see it now during finals week actually getting worse when you could have a bunch of games coming up here in a short period of time,” Hobson said. “It’s been hard on the kids, just the uncertainty.”
Beyond the mental challenges of having played just one game three weeks into the season, another concern is the advantage that other schools that have played more games may hold over the Tigers.
According to Hobson, many of the other teams in the conference have competed in five or six games at this time, leaving Fort Hays with some catching up to do when it comes to making adjustments to play.
Though the Newman women’s team has not played that number of games, the team sits with a record of 2-2. The Jets fell to both Emporia State and Pittsburg State. However, they defeated Missouri Southern in the first week of play and are coming off a tight 56-52 victory over Washburn. The Jets are also preparing for an upcoming home game against Nebraska-Kearney, scheduled for Thursday.
The Newman team currently shoots 32.2% from the field, 28.1% from beyond the three-point line, and holds an 85.2% free-throw percentage. According to Hobson, the team will provide his Tigers with a tough game due in part to their unique defense.
“I think one thing is if you aren’t shooting the ball well, you’re going to have a hard time getting away from them,” Hobson said. “I think they play at a pretty slow pace. I don’t think they’ve scored 60-points yet in a game but they’ve won some of them.”
The FHSU women’s basketball team will be looking to rally against this defense after a two-week break from play. In their last game, however, the Tigers looked to key players like junior guard, Cydney Bergmann, and senior guard, Whitney Randall, to help the team to victory over Washburn.
Randall proved to be the lead scorer in the game, setting a career high of 26-points. However, true freshman, Katie Wagner, put up 17-points of her own while also impressing Hobson with her first collegiate performance.
“I really wasn’t surprised because we’ve been seeing it,” Hobson said. “It was one of those things where I was hopeful but you don’t really know until you’re really tested.”
As Hobson prepares his young team for their upcoming game in Wichita, men’s basketball head coach, Mark Johnson, will be doing the same with his relatively young group of players.
Unlike the women’s team, the FHSU men have been able to play all games as originally scheduled. During this time, however, they have not been able to pick up a conference victory and currently sit at 0-3 for the season. Still, these losses have come at a close margin as all three games have been dropped by a total of eight-points.
The tide may be turning for the men’s team, however, if they can continue the momentum achieved during a last minute exhibition game against K-State. Indeed, the Tigers traveled to Manhattan as a replacement game on the Wildcats’ schedule after the cancellation of a match-up against Butler University.
Even lacking a head coach and assistant coach due to COVID-19 protocols, the Tigers emerged victorious under the leadership of assistant coach, Todd Johnston. The Tigers never trailed during the game and won by a 13-point margin over the Wildcats for the first time since 1938.
Johnston ultimately hopes that the team will be able to continue to play confidently in their upcoming conference games.
“We have been scoring enough points to win games, but we haven’t been getting stops and getting rebounds to win games in the MIAA. I thought we showed that tonight,” Johnston said after defeating the Wildcats. “I told our guys at the end of this game this should kick start our MIAA play and show us that we can do it. And show us what it takes to do it. I think that was big for the guys.”
While the Tigers stay hungry for their first conference victory of the season, the men’s team for Newman waits in a similar position. The Jets are also 0-3 after falling to Washburn 100-61 in last Saturday’s game. After that performance, the Jets average 70-points per game. They are 38.1% from the field and 38.4% from beyond the three-point line. Their free-throw percentage sits at 68.8% compared to the Tigers who are 86% from the line.
Ultimately, the FHSU men’s team travels to Wichita with the goal of a first win in sight. Meanwhile, the women’s team will look towards Saturday’s game with the hopes of having any sort of competition during a season turned upside-down by COVID-19.
The women tip off at 1:30 p.m. and will be followed by the men who are set to play at 3:30 p.m. Both games can be viewed on the MIAA Network.