Last season, the Fort Lewis College womens basketball team didnt run into division rivals Adams State, CSU-Pueblo and Western State until well into the conference season in January.
Fast forward a year and the No. 3 Skyhawks already have tangled with and defeated the Grizzlies and ThunderWolves, and after tonights contest with Mesa State, FLC will meet the third of that trio, Western State, on Monday, giving the team run-ins with all three primary rivals before Santa Claus even finishes loading the sleigh.
With divisions having gone by the wayside for Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference basketball for at least this season, the league schedule has expanded to 22 games. And while typically the early league games were reserved for cross-division matchups in previous years, this seasons slate is a whole new ballgame, with several nonconference matchups now replaced with league games in an unbalanced schedule.
I think just emotionally is the biggest difference to us; youre playing your biggest rivals in early December, and thats not normal, FLC head coach Mark Kellogg said.
While playing such emotional games later in the season would be beneficial with more time to prepare and acclimate once again to the rigors of RMAC play, FLC forward Mary Rose Paiz said playing them earlier also has its benefits, namely, creating an increased sense of focus and urgency earlier in the season.
If thats the case, then playing rivals earlier hasnt seemed to hamper the Skyhawks much as theyve rolled to an 8-0 start and 3-0 conference record thus far.
I really think it gets us going earlier, Paiz said. We know what were going to have to work on, and we know what were going to have to face.
And while the unbalanced schedule doesnt hurt the Skyhawks, a team from the old West Division may have to play old East Division powerhouse Metro State twice instead of a less daunting opponent like UC-Colorado Springs, which FLC faces twice, and that could make RMAC play that much tougher and affect the standings.
I think the biggest difference were going to see is were playing 11 true road conference games. ... Now were guaranteed 11 true road games every year, and that could be difficult, Kellogg said.
As for the unique scheduling that has FLC playing Sunday/Monday, the reasoning is easier to pin down: Whalen Gym was needed for graduation ceremonies this weekend.
Junior guard Stephanie Beeman said playing in front of sparse crowds was something she and her teammates got used to when playing in Alaska earlier this season.
Its going to be different, but I dont think well lose any kind of that fight or hype that we get because we dont like Western already, Beeman said.
Rest assured, whether its in front of three people or 3,000, the Skyhawks will be ready to go come 5:30 p.m. today.
Were not going to get caught up in big-crowd, small-crowd, Kellogg said. Its still two games, and were going to play em.