The stakes are pretty simple, if a bit premature.
For the fifth-ranked Fort Lewis College womens basketball team:
b Win and control your own destiny in the search for a fourth consecutive Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title;
b Lose and fall two games back with 10 to play.
When the RMACs current top dog and No. 14 team in the nation, Metro State, hits Whalen Gym at 5:30 p.m. today, the inside track to a regular season crown and perhaps a regional hosting assignment goes to the victor.
Its definitely really critical. It not only determines things for conference, but it determines things for regional rankings, senior point guard Abby Jackson said after Thursdays practice. Its (No.) 5 versus (No.) 14, so its definitely a huge game.
With so much on the line, a contrast of styles only adds to the intrigue.
Metro State (15-0, 11-0 RMAC) prefers the slower, half-court game thats allowed it to top the conference in scoring defense at just 51.4 points per game.
On the other hand, its no secret the Skyhawks (15-1, 10-1 RMAC) enjoy the frenetic, hair-on-fire pace that leads to easy transition baskets and an average of 79.9 points per game.
With us pushing the ball, its to our advantage, sophomore Katerina Garcia said.
But perhaps the most troubling statistic for FLC is the Roadrunners proficiency on the glass: Metro State leads all of Division II with an average rebounding margin of 13.7 per game, paced by Cassondra Brattons nearly nine boards per contest.
Itll be an all-hands-on-deck approach for FLC as the Skyhawks try to keep the board battle close to even.
Its us (guards) that are going to have to come in there and clean it up, Jackson said.
FLC head coach Mark Kellogg said its been a focused week of practice coming off of the Skyhawks first loss since last years national title game. And while Kellogg said he doesnt buy into the idea that a team needs a loss to keep focus, Jackson said the loss played a part in the Skyhawks intensity this week.
We came back, had a good film session Monday and got back into it, she said.
Comparisons to the squad FLC eliminated in the RMAC Shootout semifinals a year ago are fairly moot.
The Roadrunners have a new coach, Tanya Haave, who played under Pat Summitt at Tennessee, and the former University of San Francisco head coach brought starting center Tawny Drexler and her 7.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game with her.
Theyre too different to really compare, Kellogg said.
While this isnt the first game of this magnitude the Skyhawks have played this year an early season victory over then-No. 7 West Texas A&M the stakes this time are higher than some of FLCs newcomers have had to deal with at the college level.
Kellogg said that while he doesnt place too much emphasis on any one game in the regular season, hes counting on his veterans to get the freshmen up to speed with what to expect.
This is why we coach, this is why the kids came here to play for games like this on our home floor. ... But weve asked the older kids, not necessarily for this game but as the seasons gone on, is to prepare the younger kids for whats about to happen and what were going to see, he said.
And, as usual, the mantra for FLC is to worry about what it can control and value the ball things the Skyhawks didnt do down the stretch in the road loss to Colorado Christian.
That game wasnt them; it was us. We didnt do what we needed to do, so it was definitely a wake-up call for us as a team in the sense that we cant get relaxed or comfortable, Jackson said.