A fresh new look adorns the Whalen Gymnasium basketball court at Fort Lewis College.
A new-look tan floor, browned a bit inside the 3-point arc, with dark and baby-blue accents, and the new FLC logo now greets fans and players alike.
And when the Skyhawks hit their home hardwood for the first time tonight, they’ll have a fresh look to match.
Sure, a handful of familiar faces return that contributed last year – Alex Herrera and Torrey Udall in the post; Marcus Ayala, Mike Matthews, Matt Mazarei and Matthias Weissl on the perimeter – but fresh faces in the form of junior college transfers and freshmen, redshirt or true, dot the roster. So finding the right mix and consistent rotations again will be critical for longtime head coach Bob Hofman.
“Everybody’s going to have a somewhat significantly different role, and how those roles are defined, I really don’t know right now, so that’s why these next three games are really important,” Hofman said.
The biggest void left to fill was left by Matt Morris, the Durango High School alumnus who graduated along with key cogs Matt Billups, Josh Cassaday and Louie LaBate. The emotional engine of the Skyhawks in recent years, the departed center averaged a double-double with 15 points and 10.1 rebounds per year a season ago, leading FLC in both categories.
The leadership may take care of itself, but the onus falls to 6-9 towers Herrera and Udall to pick up the slack as the Skyhawks’ two true traditional post players. Each led FLC in scoring in one of three exhibition games and will need to evolve into expanded responsibilities this year if the Skyhawks want to be a factor in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference race.
“I mean, losing a Matt Morris, he’s just irreplaceable. His numbers and his career speak for itself,” said Udall, who then turned his attention from the DHS alum to the Ignacio High School alumnus. “The thing that this group realizes is Alex has come in and not missed a beat for a kid that was playing just a couple minutes behind Matt a season ago. He’s ready to go.”
The core returning guards showcased potential in spurts last season and will look to expand in terms of consistency this season.
Ayala was tops on the team in steals and fourth in scoring a year ago, while Matthews averaged 8.2 points per contest last season.
Weissl will look to be a more consistent scoring option after leading the team in 3s made a season ago, and Mazarei averaged nearly two assists per game a year ago and could be a key factor replacing Billups at the point.
“We just all are collaborating and replacing what (Billups) did for us – we’re all doing it together. ... We’re all working as a collaborative to just be great,” Mazarei said.
They’ll all have to smoothly blend with the big group of newcomers, a process Udall said is coming along after revealing a couple of areas for improvement through the exhibition season.
Wes McKenzie and Nick Tomsick, who each played well against Westminster, should factor in the guard mix as junior college transfers, along with fellow transfer Lucas Archuleta.
Redshirt freshman Cade Kloester and true freshmen Jacob Gondrezick and Shane Jensen should factor in as well in what should be a guard-heavy lineup.
But with just three nonconference games on the slate, Hofman doesn’t have the luxury of time while looking to set his rotation before RMAC play begins Nov. 30 at UC-Colorado Springs.
So, starting at 7 p.m. today against Northern New Mexico, he’ll begin trying to whittle it down and hopefully finding that right mix, something that bedeviled the Skyhawks last year.
“We’ve got so many new pieces to the puzzle that I’m afraid (it’ll be) a fairly long learning curve,” Hofman said. “But so far, I think we’ve got very good senior leadership. And a lot of guys are learning a new system, and we all need to adjust to each other, so hopefully that will come in time.”