’Hawks starting to soar

FLC women look to continue winning ways

Ashley Kuchar worked her way out of a brief scoring slump with 39 points total in two Fort Lewis victories last weekend on the road. She also earned Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week Honors. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Ashley Kuchar worked her way out of a brief scoring slump with 39 points total in two Fort Lewis victories last weekend on the road. She also earned Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week Honors.

Perhaps it’s the schedule, or perhaps the real Skyhawks finally are standing up.

Whatever the scenario, whatever the reason, Fort Lewis College women’s basketball enters play today winners of four of five and playing its best basketball of the year, reaping the confidence that comes with it.

A key road sweep coming out of the holiday break last weekend pushed the Skyhawks to 5-6 overall after an uncharacteristic 1-5 start, including a five-game losing streak. More importantly, the wins over Chadron State and Black Hills State got the Skyhawks to 4-3 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, placing them back in the middle of the pack and keeping them in prime contention for an RMAC Shootout bid, at the very least.

“In order to reach some of our goals, we had to start making a little bit of a run in conference,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “We were able to do that, so that’s really nice, but getting a road sweep is important to start that. But we’ve got to come home now and defend home court in order to keep that rolling.”

Now, Fort Lewis returns home looking to keep the momentum going coming out of the break and to get over .500 overall with games against 3-9 New Mexico Highlands and 1-11 Western New Mexico, which hasn’t won a conference game since the 2010-11 season.

A dangerous road trip to face Regis and Metro State looms next weekend, so building as much momentum as possible this weekend is critical before FLC again tests itself against the league’s best – a lofty echelon the Skyhawks themselves hope to return to.

“Sometimes coming after break, it feels like it’s a whole new season. ... I think for us, confidence-wise especially, it was really important for us to get those two road wins and come home and hopefully have a couple more,” guard Ashley Kuchar said.

The time off around the holiday break seems to have worked wonders for Kuchar. The junior guard was tabbed as the conference’s top defensive performer for her work in last weekend’s sweep.

Kuchar wasn’t too shabby on the offensive end, either. After scoring just a combined 28 points in the four games before the break, the Provo, Utah product had 15 against Chadron State and tied a career high with 24 against Black Hills State.

Always defensively solid, the increase in offensive output was a welcome sign for FLC from the team’s leading scorer at 13.3 points per game. And a big weekend did wonders for Kuchar’s confidence after a bit of a lull.

“Obviously, when things are going well offensively and defensively, it’s going to help your confidence and motivation,” she said. “So I think, I mean, it’s great to score points, but I just think our team was playing a lot better. Things were flowing, and obviously it’s really fun when that’s happening.”

The Black Hills State game was good for the psyche of pretty much every starter. All five scored in double figures in that victory, with the Skyhawks’ 80 points their best scoring output to date this season.

But perhaps the biggest positive sign for Flores was the performance and continued growth of his bench. Kaile Magazzeni poured in 16 points in the win over Chadron State, while Mary Brinton chipped in four rebounds in 13 minutes.

The reserves also helped force 27 Eagle turnovers in a game that wasn’t as close as the 78-66 score indicated.

“Defensively, we forced a lot of turnovers, which was key for us because it gives us a lot of extra possessions offensively,” Flores said. “Until we developed more depth ... we weren’t able to really play the way we needed to. Getting into a half-court slugfest is not really our team this year and our game. But we’ve got better contributions from players off the bench, which has allowed us to substitute more.”

With the schedule set to stiffen a bit over the coming weeks, it won’t be long before this edition of the Skyhawks determines where it stands. Are they the squad that struggled early on away from home? Or are they the one in front of us now, turning in repeatedly improving performances?

“If we want to stay in the running, it’s necessary to (keep winning),” Kuchar said. “I think we’ve had a lot of close games beforehand. We just struggled to finish it out. So for us to finally close out some games and get it going that way, it’s definitely refreshing.”

rowens@durangoherald.com