STORY BY CAYDEN SANDERS
PHOTOS BY MADISON SHAPLAND
It has been a busy couple of weeks for the FHSU women’s basketball team, playing six games over three weekends to start the year, including opening the season at the D2CCA Tip-off classic in Kansas City and traveling to Sioux Falls for a pair of games last season.
This weekend, FHSU finally returned to Gross Memorial Coliseum where they split their first two home games against Minnesota State-Mankato on Friday and Colorado Mesa on Saturday.
MSU was a familiar face for FHSU, as the Tigers beat the Mavericks in the first round of the NCAA tournament last spring. This time, MSU would get their revenge against the Tigers, winning a down-to-the-wire finish 65-63.
“This game had the post-game feel, especially with it being a match-up here last year,” FHSU Head Coach Tony Hobson said. “I felt that we had our chances in this game, it just didn’t go our way at the very end.”
FHSU trailed by two with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter after a go-ahead score by MSU. On their ensuing possession, the Tigers went to Megan Earney for a potential game-winning three-pointer; however, her shot was off the mark. FHSU fouled MSU guard Joey Batt, who missed both of her free throws giving FHSU one last chance.
The Tigers put the ball in the hands of forward Jessie Sallach, who drilled a long fallaway jump shot to tie the game with 3.4 seconds remaining. Sallach’s heroics were short-lived, though as MSU’s Destinee Bursch made a buzzer-beating jumper as time expired, securing the win for the Mavericks.
“I hate losing the first game, the past three weekends we have lost the first game and then we have to come back and play,” Hobson said. “I hope that it is not a trend but we need to change something if it is.”
With the loss, FHSU dropped its first home opener in 18 seasons and also snapped its 61-game home winning streak against non-conference foes. The Tigers were led by Katie Wagner, who scored a game-high 17 points while Sallach added ten points of her own. No other Tiger scored in double figures. MSU was led by Batt’s 15 points and Emily Herzberg’s 11 points.
FHSU is still working on finding its scoring identity, as the Tigers have now shot worse than 38 percent in all of their losses this year and have had multiple leading scorers each night.
On Saturday the Tigers competed against the Mavericks of Colorado Mesa, a former Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival. The Tigers lead the series 14-12 coming into the contest and hadn’t played CMU since 2006. A big second half secured an FHSU win, 75-50.
Colorado Mesa did come out hot against the Tigers, as the Mavericks held the lead until the end of the first quarter when the Tigers tied the score up at 19 each.
“I think we have finally found our stride as a team, we played really well once we started to play,” sophomore forward Olivia Hollenbeck said. “I think that in the MSU game we started to figure it out, but having a game like this has put some confidence into our team.”
In the second quarter, the Tigers started to find their stride, pushing their lead to 36-30 at halftime. However, it was an explosive third quarter that broke the game open for FHSU, outscoring CMU 23-8, tying a program record for the fewest points allowed in a quarter.
“Defensively, we started to get it going and figured out how we wanted to attack them,” Hollenbeck said. “But it was a great team effort the second half everyone did their job, and everyone played and scored, and that is what we have been looking for.”
With the Fort Hays State non-conference schedule mostly done (Tabor and Bethany remaining) the Tigers have played four new teams this season during the Hobson era in West Texas, Southern Nazarene, Augustana, and Colorado Mesa.
The women’s basketball team will finish “Hoopsgiving” at Gross Memorial a5 5:00 p.m. on Saturday against Tabor College.
“I am turning the players loose for a couple of days this week for them to go home, and then we will get back at it later in the week to get back into the schedule,” Hobson said.