BY RUSSELL HEITMANN
KANSAS CITY, Missouri — It’s been a long time coming for Fort Hays State University and the women’s basketball program. Having made three MIAA Tournament championship games since 2015, winning the title has been an elusive feat for the Tigers – until now. FHSU knocked off the University of Central Missouri on Sunday, 63-56 to claim the Tigers’ first postseason conference championship since their 1993 victory as a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
For head coach, Tony Hobson, winning the title was an accomplishment that checked off a box on his personal “to-do” list; however, the opportunity to watch his team celebrate a conference championship was even more fulfilling.
“For me personally, I like to win at anything I do but I am just happy for these kids to get experience cutting down the nets and celebrating, and I just like to sit back and watch that,” said Hobson. “Because they’ve worked their butts off this year and they’ve been coached – I like to say coached, they like to say other things. You know they are adults and they carry themselves like that and they’ve done a great job and I’m proud of them.”
Senior forward, Tatyana Legette, shared in Hobson’s ideals of playing for someone other than herself.
“It means a lot,” [on winning the MIAA championship],” said Legette. “And I have said this before, but every win for us is for Carly [Heim]. Not just for me but for everyone on the team. And so it means a lot to me that we are doing so well, and I just want to take it further into the NCAA Tournament, keep playing hard have a lot of energy, have a lot of effort and do what we do best.”
Playing for Heim may have been the boost that Legette needed to perform at her highest level – not only during the season, but throughout the tournament. The MIAA regular season player of the year was also named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds against UCM.
Although Legette was named MOP, any number of Tigers could have earned the honor. Junior forward Lanie Page and junior guard Taylor Rolfs were both named to the All-Tournament team alongside Legette. Page finished the game with ten points while Rolfs scored 17 to lead all scorers. Hobson noted that after the game’s outcome was no longer in doubt, the only question running through his mind was which of his players would win the MOP award.
“Well, it’s kind of a good feeling after we won the game, because we probably have the MVP of the Tournament, but I don’t know who it might be,” said Hobson. “It could have been several people and Taylor was one of them, “T” was one of them and maybe Lanie could have been one of them. We had so many people play really big.”
The Tigers once again won behind a balanced attack, with four players finishing in double-figure scoring. Joining Legette, Rolfs and Page was junior forward, Belle Barbieri, who also had ten points. Legette said playing on such a balanced team makes it harder on their opponents, and more fun for the Tigers.
“I enjoy being a part of a team where anybody can do anything,” said Legette. “I think it kind of takes a lot of stress off all of us pretty much, because there are so many people that you can rely on and that is really, really nice both offensively and defensively as well.”
Fort Hays jumped out to an early 18-5 lead by converting on their first eight offensive possessions. And while the Tigers had similar early success on Saturday behind hot three-point shooting, the Tigers made a more concerted effort to enter the ball into the post and take advantage of matchups inside against UCM.
“That was game plan, because we thought that offensively it would be a decided advantage if we got it in there,” said Hobson. “And their guards are excellent and they switch well so we weren’t getting many open looks [on the perimeter]. So our first three looks were going to be trying to go inside, and work from the inside out and tonight it got us off to a good start.”
Rolfs said their early success helped them throughout the remainder of the game by playing with the lead and not worrying about trying to make up ground.
“That was huge because it was just kind of like a jumpstart into the whole game,” said Rolfs. “Just keep the lead from now on, so that was good that we had that lead at the beginning and down low we did a really good job of finishing at the start of the game.”
The Tigers will now await their NCAA Tournament seeding fate as the Tournament Selection show will air tonight at 9 p.m. CST. The most recent Central Regional Rankings had FHSU as the number two seed behind Southwestern Oklahoma State. SWOSU defeated Arkansas Tech 87-66 today to win the Great American Conference title. FHSU is ranked ahead of SWOSU in both the coaches and media poll.
For Hobson and the Tigers, they will pay attention to the seeding releases tonight on their bus ride home to find out if they will host the regional next weekend in Hays, or travel to SWOSU for the NCAA Tournament.
“Right now I think it is up in the air – I don’t know if we are going to be on the road, or host, or whatever, but we will wait and see,” said Hobson. “We will either be a one or two seed. I think our chances are good. If you are 30-1 in this league and win the conference, and win the conference tournament, I just don’t see how it can’t happen. But I have seen a lot of strange things happen.”
The NCAA Central Regional will be played from March 15-18 on the number one seed’s campus. Stay tuned to Tiger Media Network for more information on FHSU’s seeding.