Small-school Fatima has big goals in tourney

Fatima isn’t just that small school brought in for the big schools to beat up on. The Lady Comets are here to spoil the party.

“We kind of play that up that we are the small school and we take pride in that,” Fatima head coach Dustin Hays said as the Lady Comets (4-1) open the State Farm Holiday Hoops Invitational against defending tournament champion St. Joseph Benton (3-0) at 4 p.m. today at Rackers Fieldhouse. “We want to be invited back next year, we want to come in and compete, we want to win some games.”

Although Fatima is the smallest school in the tournament, residing in Class 3, the Lady Comets are planning on turning some heads.

“We wouldn’t be in it if our goal wasn’t to win it,” Hays said. “And we want our girls to believe that they can win it. We know there’s a lot of great teams in there.”

The first obstacle just might be the toughest.

“I know (Benton) lost some girls from last year’s team,” Hays said. “I know they’re a really good team. I guess you could say that since they won it last year, maybe they are the team to beat this year.”

Benton beat Mexico, Helias and Quincy (Ill.) to win the tournament last season. Fatima wants to quell any hopes of a repeat early on.

“I know Benton plays primarily man-to-man defense. Looking at their scores I think they’re pretty dang good at it,” Hays said. “You look at their scores even the last couple years and it’s all 40s and 30s. You don’t see too many scores in the 50s and 60s. They’re going to get after it with their man-to-man defense.”

That’s true. Benton is allowing slightly more than 33 points per game this season. The Lady Cardinals’ offense isn’t as impressive, but it begins and ends with junior guard Mallory McAndrews, who averages 18.5 points per game.

“She’s a girl that we have to focus on and we have to try to stop in game one,” Hays said.

It starts with one player for Fatima as well — junior Morgan Brandt.

“She’s leading us in every major statistical category — points (21 per game), rebounds (6.2), steals (3.4), assists (3.4),” Hays said. “She’s at the top of the list. She does a little bit of everything for us. She’s our key, there’s no secret to that.”

Then the Lady Comets toss in starting forwards Kate Massman and Annie Bock to the scoring mix. The two combine to average nearly 19 points per game.

“We have to have good outings from them, too,” Hays said. “We can’t just be a guard-oriented team. We have to work the ball inside and go inside-out a little bit as well.”

Then you can throw in Leah Kesel, Fatima’s top defender.

The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either.

“Our other players are great role players,” Hays said. “They’re embracing their role of playing great defense or being a quality point guard or whatever their role is, they’re kind of accepting it. That’s the reason why I think we’ve played a lot better the last week or two.”

After falling by two to Owensville in the season opener, a game the Lady Comets played without starter Leah Kesel, Fatima has rattled off four consecutive wins against St. Elizabeth, Helias, Chamois and Eldon.

“We’ve gotten continually better every game after that one,” Hays said. “I think our girls learned a lot from that first game against Owensville. We realized we have to come in prepared for every single game. I think we maybe took them lightly, and I took that blame for that. That was my fault. We haven’t done that again since.”

And now Fatima hopes to keep that winning going.

“We kind of want to be the Cinderella story,” Hays said. “We want to be that Cinderella for this tournament. You see those upsets all the time in the NCAA Tournament, and we want to be that type of team to do that.”

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