There is no rivalry.
There is no backstory to create friction, no underlying animosity.
There is only a small, shared history – and a pair of intertwined legacies in the MIAA – that tie Fort Hays State’s Kate Lehman and Emporia State’s Merissa Quick headed into their senior seasons.
“There’s a rivalry between our teams, sure, but as far as us, I think I played against her once before we got in college, in a KBCA game,” said Lehman, a Newton native. “She’s been one of the main reasons Emporia State has been so good in the time I’ve been in college. There have been times I couldn’t stop her.”
Quick’s take is a bit more blunt – she bristled at even being asked about Lehman.
“Nothing there,” said Quick, a Cheney native. “There’s no rivalry....”
Maybe that’s because on the court, the 6-3 Quick has definitely had the upper hand the last three seasons.
The Hornets are 4-1 against Fort Hays State the last three seasons, with their only loss coming last season, in Hays, behind 12 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks by Lehman.
Or maybe it’s because at Emporia State, there’s not a whole lot of premium put on individual battles – be it between two players or two teams.
“We want to win a national championship, it’s what we talk about a lot in the offseason,” said Quick, who’s from Cheney. “When the season starts, we really narrow the focus to what’s at hand, but it’s always in the back of our minds. That’s the ultimate goal.”
And that starts with Quick, who has been at her best when the Hornets need her most. She’s already a two-time MIAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player and led Emporia State to the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 last season. The Hornets are the preseason favorite to win the MIAA this season and No. 14 in the NCAA Division II preseason poll.
Her season averages of 12.8 points and 7.4 rebounds jumped to 17.8 and 7.7 in the postseason. She also averaged 2.6 blocks during the regular season.
“I’m the kind of person, when the game is on the line, I’ll just walk up to the guard and tell them to throw it into the post and I’ll take care of it,” Quick said. “That’s not a slight to anyone else on the team, that’s just the way I’m wired. It’s not just basketball, it’s with group projects at school ... anything in my life. I want to be the one taking care of things.”
And where Quick has had team success, Lehman (6-4) has piled up the individual honors.
Lehman, from Newton, is already a two-time All-MIAA pick and two-time MIAA Defensive Player of the Year. Quick was honorable mention All-MIAA as a sophomore and second-team All-MIAA last season.
Fort Hays State is picked fourth in the MIAA preseason poll and missed the NCAA Division II Tournament by one spot in the final regional rankings last season — the top eight teams make it and the Tigers finished No. 9.
Lehman averaged 16.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.3 blocks, setting the MIAA single-season record and leading the nation with 155 blocks. Her 374 career blocks rank seventh in NCAA Division II history.
Not that Lehman has thought about her career for more than a couple of seconds here or there.
“It pops up in my head every now and then, about that my career will be over after this year,” Lehman said. “I don’t like to think about it, not even for one minute.”
That’s because all of her focus has been on this year.
“The offseason for me was spent working on strength and speed,” Lehman said. “I feel much stronger and much faster this year, a lot of core work went into that, a lot of time in the weight room.”
Barring MIAA Tournament or NCAA Tournament games, there are two more matchups scheduled for Lehman and Quick — Jan. 28 in Emporia and Feb. 7 in Hays.
“Emporia State is going to be good, really good,” Lehman said. “But so will Washburn and Pitt State and a lot of other teams in the MIAA. The talent in the league this year is unreal.”