BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
The memory of a historic season is fresh in the minds of many as the Fort Hays State women’s basketball team is looking to continue their success from last year, which resulted in an MIAA championship.
“It’s really difficult to come off of a MIAA championship and repeat because we have 13 other teams trying to do the same thing,” Head Coach Tony Hobson said. “We’ll do the best we can and see where it takes us. I’m hoping that our two seniors will be able to get us going early in the year and bring the others along.”
Senior Whitney Randall mentioned their hopes for a repeat when asked about team mentality.
“We want to be the one team who wins back-to-back because ever since our conference started there hasn’t been a back-to-back championship, so our goal is to be the first,” she said.
Along with the championship, the Tigers won 20 conference games last season, a feat that tied the conference record and earned the team a first-place ranking in both the MIAA coaches and media preseason polls. While the ranking is definitely an accomplishment, several of the players acknowledged that the placement does not guarantee anything.
“It’s exciting to be ranked number one,” said Katie Wagner, a second-year freshman due to COVID-19 extended eligibility. “But then again that doesn’t really mean much until you can prove it.”
“I don’t really think the preseason rankings really mean a whole lot,” Randall added. “Coach always says that it doesn’t give us an extra win in the book, we all start at 0-0 no matter what our ranking is.”
Randall and Jaden Hobbs, who are both from Alva, Oklahoma, are the only seniors on this year’s roster. This is the fifth season for both of the players, as the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to players during the pandemic.
“I think I’m really fortunate that it worked out for me. I’m really excited and ready to go out on a high note hopefully,” Hobbs said regarding the extra year of eligibility.
While Randall and Hobbs return with plenty of experience, two other key players for the Tigers were just freshmen last year. Wagner played in all 26 games and appeared in the starting lineup four times. Olivia Hollenbeck also played in each game, starting in 23 of them, and earned All-MIAA Honorable Mention at the end of the season.
“We made it far last season,” Hollenbeck said, “We were happy with how we did but not satisfied, so we’re excited to see what’s next.”
“We’re just a bunch of girls that work hard,” Wagner added. “We’re excited to start some games.”
As for preparation, Hobson said that right now the team is focused on learning their material and staying healthy and strong.
“The other thing is to not take anything for granted,” he said. “We can’t assume that because we were good last year we’ll be good this year. It’s a totally different season. Even though we have a lot of the same kids, everyone else is in the same boat and it will be a tight race.”
Fort Hays opens the season on November 7th by traveling to the University of Connecticut for an exhibition game against the Huskies. The team will play two more road games before their first home game on November 19th, where they will be playing St. Cloud State at 6 P.M.
Stay tuned to TMN for a look at the men’s basketball team next week.