STORY BY CAYDEN SANDERS
PHOTOS BY MADISON SHAPLAND
With MIAA play beginning this week, the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team played a post-Thanksgiving tune-up game on Saturday against Tabor College (NAIA). The Tigers took advantage of their mismatches against Tabor and beat the Bluejays 65-51.
Going into the game, the Tigers have struggled against good teams early this season – playing four teams who qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. FHSU went 2-2 against those teams so far, with five others coming up this season, so a game against a lower-division team helped FHSU prepare for MIAA play.
“We weren’t real sharp. We missed a lot of shots around the basket that we should have made. We weren’t strong enough to get to the line,” FHSU Head Coach Tony Hobson said. “When you get it inside like that, [you] either need to score the basket or draw foul,s so we were a little sluggish. Tabor played well, shot the ball well. But we’ll move on.”
After a two-minute drought to start the game, FHSU built a 13-0 lead over the first seven minutes of action. Sophomore forward Jessie Sallach helped pace the Tigers early, scoring all six of her points in the first ten minutes.
“Tonight, I just focused on being patient with my moves, and let the guards clear out so I can go to work down low,” Sallach said.
For Sallach, taking on a bigger role this season is no burden after playing significant minutes in her two prior seasons in the black and gold.
“Last time I was interviewed, I was just starting out getting big minutes for this team, and having confidence is what I needed to work on,” Sallach said. “Since then, seeing game shots go in, my confidence has been better on the floor. I can’t wait to get into conference games.”
Another pair of Tigers took advantage of their minutes against Tabor: Clary Donica and Kia Wilson. Wilson, who missed all of last season with an injury, scored eight points in 10 minutes of action while Donica also scored eight points in 14 minutes on the court.
“One thing that Paige (Lundsford) and Talia (Kahrs) have both really just been helping me to focus on is reversing out and just looking for my shot first,” Donica said. “I was really focused on that tonight and I’ve been practicing that a lot. So I think that helped was keeping it simple for my game.”
The Tigers led the Bluejays 35-23 at halftime. The first half included a block from Olivia Hollenbeck, who is just four blocks away from 100 in her career. Only eight other Tigers have accomplished that feat.
While FHSU started the game with a big lead, Tabor outscored the Tigers in the second quarter and through the first few minutes of the third quarter, pulled within eight with 6:06 remaining. However, a push to end the period put FHSU back up by double-digits, 51-35. For Hobson, playing with a lead allowed him to go deeper into his bench and get his players more experience.
“The bench got a lot more time than they have been. So these guys are all capable players and just need an opportunity,” Hobson said. “So it was good to see them come in and shoot a pretty high percentage and score well off the bench.”
Getting on the floor has been a positive experience for Wilson, after missing so much time in her career. She said it was hard to sit back and watch last year while recovering from her injury.
“Yeah, last year I had surgery so it’s definitely been it’s been really hard to watch,” Wilson said. “It’s been really awesome getting back. Nobody knows the hours waiting and watching, and it’s been a long time. So it feels good to be back in the swing of things.”
Tabor also outscored FHSU 16-14 in the final quarter, so while the final margin of victory might have looked sound for FHSU, the Tigers led 60-38 at one point and the team hopes to use this game as a learning experience for putting opponents away and not letting them creep back in.
“I don’t I don’t think any of us are comfortable with it. I mean, we won and obviously we’re going to take the win, but nothing about that was what we should have done,” Donica said. “We should have just hammered that team, and we didn’t and we had way too many turnovers, our defense, we didn’t talk. It was just a lot of little things that added up.”
FHSU turned the ball over 10 times and allowed the Bluejays to shoot 50 percent from the floor on the game. Katie Wagner led FHSU in scoring with 16 points; however, no other Tigers scored in double figures.
Fort Hays State moves to 4-3 on the year and looks to start the MIAA conference schedule against Northeastern State and Rogers State. Tip-off against the Riverhawks is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Thursday.