BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
PHOTOS By LOREN McQUEENY
After being ranked at the top of the conference in the preseason polls and winning a share of the regular season title, the Fort Hays women’s basketball team defeated the Missouri Southern Lions 48-42 to win the MIAA Tournament.
The meeting between the teams during the regular season resulted in a loss for the Tigers, 54-41, resulting in Fort Hays splitting the regular season title with the Lions. Their 41 points was the season-low for the Tigers, and the 54 points for the Lions was their second-lowest total of the season.
The championship game on Sunday afternoon proved to be another defensive battle with the Tigers ending Missouri Sothern’s 17-game winning streak.
“I thought our kids were super tough today,” Head Coach Tony Hobson said. “Our defense was spot on for about the third or fourth straight game. I’m really proud of the way we didn’t back down to the physicality of the game. It didn’t get to us, we just battled.”
Missouri Southern Head Coach Ronnie Ressel shared similar sentiments about the game.
“I thought both teams played extremely hard. Both teams guarded the heck out of each other,” Ressel said. “I think that’s how a championship game should be, either you score a whole bunch of points or you don’t score many at all. Fort Hays is a very good team. They made a couple more plays than we did down the stretch and I think that was the difference in the ball game.”
The top-level defense was on display from the very beginning. After ten minutes of play the score was tied at eight points apiece. The offense slowly began rolling for the Tigers in the second quarter, and they even led by ten at one point. A run by the Lions shortened the margin to just three for a score of 29-26 at halftime.
“Nobody was going to get an open look,” Hobson said. “It was like if you scored it was almost an accident.”
The game stayed close throughout the third and fourth quarters and was tied three times during the second half, but Fort Hays never trailed. After a three-pointer from Jaden Hobbs to make it 43-40, Missouri Southern only scored one more field goal.
Kate Dilsaver knocked down one free throw and a baseline drive and reverse layup from Sydney Golladay moved the score to 46-42. Golladay was fouled seven seconds later and made two free throws, sealing the game for the Tigers.
“You have to hand it to Sydney Golladay. She couldn’t buy a [shot] from open looks at a three, and then she hits a stupid shot. It was a good shot and that was about all she had. She made a big play there. That takes some guts to do that and to even look at the shot,” said Hobson.
Golladay finished with six points, as did Olivia Hollenbeck and Cydney Bergmann. Hobbs led FHSU with 10 points, while Katie Wagner added nine while Whitney Randall had eight points.
At the end of the game, Hobbs and Randall were named to the all-tournament team, along with Layne Skiles and Lacy Stokes of Missouri Southern, and Kelsey Johnson of Central Oklahoma. Randall was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 15 points through three games.
This is the second conference tournament championship in school history for the Tigers. The first came at the end of the 2018-19 season. Last season Fort Hays won the regular season title and made it to the championship game, but lost to Nebraska-Kearney 57-51.
“I think last year we were obviously a little disappointed that we couldn’t quite finish that game off in the finals. Being able to come back this year was really special,” Hobbs said.
Randall was a sophomore in 2018-19 sophomore year while Hobbs transferred to Fort Hays for the 2019-20 season, making Randall the only current player who was there for the last championship.
“I’m so proud of the younger girls because they really stepped up. It really was a battle, especially going to the boards, so it just feels really good to get it done,” Randall said. “I was a part of the team when we won three years ago, so I know Jaden hasn’t experienced it. It was a good feeling to get it done on this court and be back in Kansas City. I just loved the atmosphere,” she said.
Hobson also mentioned how Golladay and Bergmann were both out at the end of last season with ACL injuries.
“They both had pretty quick turnarounds for an ACL recovery, while also contributing to that win. I thought that was really neat,” he said.
With the win, the Tigers have a good chance of hosting the Central Region Tournament. Official rankings and the location will be announced later tonight, but it’s likely Randall and Hobbs will have another opportunity to play in Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“I’m just really excited to be able to experience that, me personally, but I know the other girls are excited and I’m excited for them as well,” Hobbs said. “I’m also excited for Coach to get to host that another time hopefully.”
“I just got goosebumps thinking about it,” Randall added. “Whenever we got to do that a few years ago, the crowd really showed up. I can’t wait for the younger girls and everyone else to experience it because it really is truly incredible.”