Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
The bench was a collection of living, breathing question marks for the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team to start the season.
Every player who came into the year having played anything resembling significant minutes was in the starting five. A few players were about to get thrown in a sink-or-swim situation, and the Skyhawks desperately needed them to get their sea legs sooner rather than later.
As FLC began to find itself again, embarking on a six-game winning streak that narrowly was snapped by Metro State last Saturday, the bench for the Skyhawks – behind a fairly steady rotation of Mary Brinton, Erin Curry, Kaile Magazzeni and Kylie Santos – has found itself, giving head coach Jason Flores more flexibility and taking some of the burden off the starters.
“I would honestly just say it’s our confidence,” Magazzeni said. “None of us played big minutes before.
“It’s been great because I feel like I haven’t really played since high school any big minutes. It’s great to get an opportunity.”
Magazzeni was a victim of the numbers game last year, with standouts Dana Schreibvogel, Jenna Santistevan and Mary Rose Paiz giving FLC a deep frontcourt, with Stephanie Beeman and Christie Groh, now a starter, taking the bulk of the bench minutes. For that same reason, Brinton redshirted last year out of Pagosa Springs High School, while Curry earned meager minutes on a deep FLC team. And Santos is a true freshman.
As they started to become more sure of their abilities on the practice court, the key bench players began to close what Flores said was a large gap between them and the starters at the beginning of the year. And as they proved more capable in practice, Flores felt more confident going to them early and often in games.
“I think it all starts in practice,” Flores said. “There was awhile back where there was a big disparity in practice, and I told them awhile ago that my confidence in you for games comes from my confidence every day in practice. ... If you’re outplaying someone that’s in front of you or that is starting, in time, you notice that.”
And the practice play has translated. Magazzeni scored 16 points against Chadron State and has led FLC in rebounding three times this season. Brinton pulled in seven rebounds to lead FLC against New Mexico Highlands two weeks ago and has provided quality defensive minutes, as has Curry, who has 28 assists in 14.4 minutes per game this season, good for fourth on the team behind players who average twice her minutes.
“We’ve been just all-around getting a better knowledge for how coach Flores coaches – what he wants, what he expects,” Magazzeni said. “I think everything just started to fall into place.”
The growth of Brinton and Magazzeni in particular has helped shore up an area that looked like a liability at the beginning of the year – frontcourt depth. Groh has proven her mettle as a starter, averaging 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. But there were worries about what could happen in the frontcourt when she checked out of the game. As Brinton and Magazzeni have improved, that’s become less an area of concern.
“It also took them working, figuring out how to work harder, play better – they had to push themselves, as well. ... And it helps us because now there’s times where we can put two posts on the floor,” Flores said.
It turns out that getting bench production simply was a matter of time as a green bunch figured out how to blossom into a group capable and confident in once foreign roles under a new head coach.
“It took a little while for that to develop ... but that’s been one of the really huge reasons (we’ve been winning),” Flores said.