The No. 7/3 Fort Hays State women’s basketball team opens the 51st season in program history this weekend against a pair of 20-win NSIC teams in St. Joseph, Mo. The Tigers open the year against Minnesota Duluth on Friday (Nov. 8) at 1:30 p.m. inside the St. Joseph Civic Arena before battling Concordia-St. Paul on Saturday (Nov. 9) at 2 p.m.
Daily general admission tickets to the 28th Hillyard Tip-Off are available for just $10 and are good for all four games of each day. FHSU will play in the first contest on both Friday and Saturday.
Fort Hays State returns 10 letterwinners from last year’s squad that finished 32-2, the most wins in a season during the DII era. The Tigers won both regular season and MIAA tournament titles and reached the regional championship game. Among the returners are three All-MIAA performers in Kacey Kennett (second team), Lanie Page (third team) and Belle Barbieri. Four newcomers, including two transfers and two true freshmen, round out this year’s roster.
Kennett needs just 21 points to reach the 1,000-point milestone in her career. She would become the 21st player in program history to score 1,000 points in their career, and the first to join the list since Tatyana Legette. She would be the sixth player to play for Hobson and reach 1,000 career points.
Hobson enters his 12th season at FHSU with a 237-94 record as a Tiger, the most wins for a coach in program history. Hobson is 650-200 in 27 seasons as a head coach. He ranks eighth in win percentage among active NCAA DII coaches with a four-year collegiate win percentage of .770 (448-134).
After winning both regular season and tournament titles last year, FHSU enters the season ranked first in both MIAA preseason polls. It is highest preseason conference ranking for the Tigers since joining the league in 2006-07.
Minnesota Duluth returns nine players from last year’s squad that finished the season 23-7 and reached the NCAA DII Central Regional. The Bulldogs won the NSIC Tournament and were selected as the No. 4 seed in the region, but fell to MSU Moorhead in the regional quarterfinal in Hays. UMD returns three starters, including a pair of all-conference performers in Sarah Grow (2nd team All-NSIC) and Brooke Olson (All-NSIC Freshman Team). Olson was selected as a preseason player to watch in the NSIC after averaging 9.2 points and 5.7 rebounds as a freshman. Sammy Kozlowski, the Bulldogs’ leader in scoring and assists, was one of just two players UMD lost to graduation. The Bulldogs are led by fifth-year head coach Mandy Pearson, who holds a 60-51 record at UMD and a 162-159 mark in 12 years as a head coach.
UMD was one of two programs to average fewer turnovers than the Tigers last year, topping Division II with just 11.0 turnovers per game. FHSU ranked third nationally with 11.1 turnovers per contest.
Concordia-St. Paul brings back seven players this season after turning in a 21-7 record in 2018-19. The Golden Bears lost five of its six leading scorers, including a pair of seniors that averaged more than 16 points per game. Sidney Wentland is the lone starter returning in 2019-20 and is the leading returner in numerous statistical categories, including points (7.4 ppg), rebounds (4.4 rpg), assists (2.6 apg) and blocks (0.6 bpg). Wentland was named a preseason player to watch in the NSIC. Head coach Amanda Johnson enters her fifth year at the helm at CSP with a lifetime record of 62-45.
The Tigers have played Concordia-St. Paul once before, losing early in the 2014-15 season (11/15/14) to the 10th-ranked Golden Bears, 70-68, before going on to have one of the best seasons in program history. Friday will be the first meeting between the Tigers and Bulldogs.
Minnesota Duluth is the first of four teams FHSU will play for the first time in program history this season. The Tigers have played 127 different programs in its 50-year history. FHSU is 78-49 in the inaugural meeting against those 127 schools. Hobson is 13-3 in games against opponents FHSU had never previously played.
FHSU is 57-5 in the month of November under Hobson, including 27 consecutive wins. The aforementioned early-season loss to CSP is the last such defeat.
The Tigers are 15-2 against current NSIC teams under Hobson and 42-16 all-time against NSIC teams.
FHSU has won its last 15 season openers, the longest such streak in program history. The Tigers are 33-17 all-time in the first game of the year.
The Tigers have won their last 34 non-conference regular season games and 67 of their last 68. Coach Hobson is 77-5 in regular season non-conference games.