It was hard for Erika Richards to look in the mirror.
The 2010-2011 campaign for the Fort Lewis College womens basketball team was in its infancy, and Richards wasnt hitting her long-range shot with the regularity to which she had grown accustomed after averaging 20 points per game as a senior at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Ariz.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block? Her broken nose was staring back at her in the mirror every day.
But a couple of weeks after busting her beak from an errant elbow in practice, the 5-9 freshman ditched the protective mask and jumped directly into the role of instant offense off the bench.
Richards has hit double digits in 10 of No. 4 FLCs last 12 games, including career-high totals of 15 points in four of those games.
In the process, the sharpshooting freshman upped her scoring average to 8.2 points per game and her 3-point shooting percentage to .431, good for second on the team.
The team leader in 3-point percentage and the schools all-time leading shooter from distance, Abby Jackson, said shes never played with a freshman so confident in her shot, and having done it herself, Jackson realizes the difficulty in getting in the flow of the offense off the bench.
Its good. Its funny because we have two totally different shots, but she really has a great shot, Jackson said.
FLC head coach Mark Kellogg knew he had a unique offensive weapon when Richards signed on the dotted line, one that wasnt afraid to pull the trigger. And while her defensive skills and shot selection are points the coaching staff still are trying to emphasize with the young gunner, Kellogg said its easier to pull a player back than convince her to increase her swagger.
Its easier to pull the reigns back with those kind of kids than it is to teach kids how to play that way or have that kind of confidence, he said.
Its a confidence Richards built through not only her high school performances but also through hours spent alone in the gym.
Its the only way you can build confidence is shooting hundreds of shots, she said.
The biggest improvement since Day 1, despite the broken-nose setback, has come in shot selection. Gone are the days when a touch and six inches of separation equaled a sometimes hasty shot from Richards. She hasnt shied away from her shot, however, but rather used it a bit more diligently by incorporating ball fakes, midrange jumpers, and a drive-and-kick game thats helped make her more complete offensively.
I work on it a lot, because I know that one of these games, someones going to figure out that I shoot first, and Im going to have to do something else, Richards said.
And I think shes had it all along. ... I think its her shot selection she got a little bit better with that, Jackson said.
And as the regular season draws to a close for the 22-1 Skyhawks, Kellogg said he knows hell need Richards and the key contributions from fellow newcomers Christine Groh and Ashley Kuchar to make FLCs dreams of returning to the national championship game a reality.
Second semester, there are no freshmen anymore. ... Were going to need all three of them, Kellogg said.