BY CAYDEN SANDERS
The Fort Hays State women’s basketball team is gearing up for another big season the Tigers square off in the Division 2 Conference Commissioners Association Tip-off Hosted by the MIAA this weekend. Tony Hobson, in his 15th year as head coach of the Tigers, said he thinks this season is the deepest team he has ever had at Fort Hays and is looking to have a good season.
Hobson has a .741 win percentage in his career at Fort Hays State and is the winningest head coach in Fort Hays history. He has also won six MIAA championships, two regional coaches of the year, four MIAA coaches of the year, and is a two-time KBCA four-year coach of the year all while leading the Tigers to host two regional championships at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“It never gets easier, the more you do it. As much as you would think it gets any easier, your wrong,” Hobson said. “This conference is a great conference and we are one of the top dogs, and every team wants to beat you, or be you and to stay on top of the conference is a lot harder than it looks.”
As Fort Hays State looks upon the new season, the Tigers need to replace the senior class of Jaden Hobbs, Whitney Randell, and Cydney Bergmann. FHSU will try to do so with freshmen Brooke Loewe and Ellie Sterns along with transfers Whitney Brown, Sasha Koenig, Mallory Cowman and Clary Donica.
“This might be the deepest team I have had in recent years, every one of these players I trust to go out there and do the job and get the job done right,” Hobson said.
With the new players getting settled into playing for Fort Hays State, one of the most notable newcomers is Donica – an Oklahoma native who started her career at the University of Oklahoma and found her way into the MIAA through the University of Central Oklahoma.
Donica played for the Bronchos for three seasons and helped lead the Bronchos to their first-ever win against the Tigers in Gross Memorial in the 19-20 season. She will also be the only upperclassman on this year’s team as a graduate student.
“I just loved what the coaches stood for and have been playing against for the past three years. You really learn and just tell kind of what they value just based off their how their girls play and how they respect the coaches,” Donica said. “I wanted to go to a program that was good but also that I would like and it would build me as a person, so that was a big factor as well.”
For Donica, she is no stranger to the level of competition that the MIAA has to offer. Being a part of the MIAA, she knows what it takes to compete against the Tigers.
“It’s kind of fun, because you see one side and then you see the darkside. I know that sounds cheesy,” Donica said. “I would say every day I see the difference in why Fort Hays is so much better than everyone, its the attention to detail, the respect of the coaches by players. And I think the biggest thing is just like they emphasize just work ethic above all else.”
Now that Donica is here at Fort Hays, Hobson thinks she will be a staple on this team for the upcoming season. Depending on the rotation of players on the court Donica will be the power forward or center.
“We have always felt that Clary [Donica] was always a capable basketball player. When we played against her here, she put up numbers that we liked,” Hobson said. “We know that she can play and be physically strong in the paint, and Clary brings toughness to this team that we need.”
Another new member of the program that will look to make an impact is Whitney Brown a sophomore transfer from the University of Nebraska. While the exhibition against K-State was not notable, the transfer is looking to bring relief off of the bench for the Tigers down the stretch of the season.
“There’s a lot of bigger girls in DI, big like six-foot guards and sometimes the pace of the game is a little faster and DI.” Brown said, “I think that playing here will help me improve my game, I know I won’t start at the beginning, but I want to be a key player coming off of the bench.”
Brown went to Nebraska but had multiple offers from other schools, one of those schools being Fort Hays State. Before transferring, Brown wanted to find a home that had a tight-knit community and be welcomed with open arms into the next program she went to. Brown also wanted to compete for national championships and under the bright lights of tough competition.
But that’s not the only thing that brought Brown to Fort Hays as Brown and Olivia Hollenbeck are childhood friends, and Brown wanted to play with Hollenbeck once again. While they were kids, the two played traveling basketball together, and Brown is happy to be here with Hollenbeck.
“Yes, Liv [Hollenbeck] is actually like one of my best friends. We’ve stayed close over even though we’ve been like far apart from each other,” Brown said. “She was one of the girls that was trying to me telling me that I should come and she was a big reason why I was here.”
Hollenbeck has been a face of the program for the last two seasons as the team’s center. She is a two-time honorable mention at forward for the conference. The Tigers will look upon the returners to carry this young Tiger roster. With Hollenbeck’s experience, she will not be the only one leading this team as Katie Wagner, and Sydney Golladay will also be counted on by the team as they were key pieces in last years season.
Hollenbeck talked about how her meaningful minutes as a freshman has helped her step into the role she is in now.
“We have a lot of people coming support us I think it’s really special. Everyone in town comes to games and that’s something that’s been really important to me is everyone who is there has constant encouragement,” Hollenbeck said. “You go to the grocery store and people will come up to you and say hi, and they wish you good luck. That’s really special and something that when you travel you know you don’t see everywhere else.”
FHSU will be on the road to start their season at the D2CCA Tip-off in Kansas City against West Texas, a preseason top-10 team that had a 26-11 run with an elite eighth finish to the national champion Glenville State last season. Tip-off for the Tigers and West Texas will be at 1:30 on Saturday. On Sunday the Tigers will compete against Southern Nazarene, a team that went 20-10 last season.