A big road sweep led to some big accolades for the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team this week.
One week after dropping out of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II top-25 poll for the first time in 36 weeks, the Skyhawks (16-3, 12-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) climbed back in at No. 21 in the latest poll released Tuesday. FLC did so after a huge 85-83 overtime win at Regis University followed by a 96-69 win at Chadron State.
“It’s a privilege to be nationally ranked,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We have been accustomed to being ranked, but we never take the honor for granted. It’s so hard to be successful in such a competitive league and sport. Most coaches won’t admit it, but I will. Being nationally ranked is pretty awesome.”
Pietrack picked up a big award of his own Monday, as he was named the HoopDirt.com Division II National Coach of the Week. It is the first time this season Pietrack has earned the honor from the college basketball coaching website, though he has earned the award each of his previous two seasons leading FLC.
“Any time an individual receives an award while being part of a team, it’s because so many others around him are doing an exceptional job,” Pietrack said. “Our program is full of quality people. Our players are competitive, unselfish young men. We love coaching them. They make the program special.”
With the win at Regis, Pietrack also became the fastest coach in RMAC history to 50 wins. It took him only 59 games, one better than a trio of coaches at Metro State University-Denver coaches in Derrick Clark, Mike Dunlap and Brannon Hays. Pietrack is now 51-9 in conference games as the leader of the Skyhawks.
“Daniel Steffensen is the best assistant in all of D-II basketball, and his basketball IQ is off the charts,” Pietrack said, as he credited those around him for his success. “We have an athletic director in Barney Hinkle who is vested in our success and is very supportive. It is an honor for any of us 300-plus schools in D-II, and I am glad that our program is bringing recognition to our school. I’m thankful to be part of such a great basketball program and look forward to an exciting finish to the season.”
FLC is the lone RMAC team in the NABC poll and the only RMAC team to receive votes. West Liberty (17-0) earned all 16 first-place votes to stay at No. 1, and Lincoln Memorial (17-1) stayed at No. 2.
FLC is alone in first place in the RMAC, though Westminster College is tied in the loss column at 11-2 in league play. Metro State is third at 10-4, and Colorado Mines is fourth at 9-4 after a road loss Saturday at CSU-Pueblo.
Though Westminster is 15-2 overall and 11-2 in the RMAC, it is not yet eligible for postseason play after moving up from NAIA to D-II. The Griffins are in their final year of the transition period.
Gray the RMAC queen once moreIt may have been a tough road split for the Skyhawks, but it was another clean sweep for FLC star freshman Vivian Gray.
For the third time this season, Gray took the RMAC Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week awards. All together, Gray has won offensive player of the week three times and has taken the defensive honor four times this season.
In a 78-66 win Saturday at Chadron State, Gray notched career highs with 33 points and 15 rebounds. In a 74-70 overtime loss Friday at Regis, Gray scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists, stole the ball twice and blocked one shot. She went 14-of-16 from the free-throw line in the two games combined.
But, after losing three consecutive road games before bouncing back against Chadron, the FLC women dropped out of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II top-25 poll for the first time this season. FLC entered the weekend ranked No. 23 and was ranked as high as No. 11 on Nov. 28.
The Skyhawks are still receiving votes in the poll and would be ranked 29th, if the poll extended beyond 25.
No RMAC team appeared in the poll this week, but two South Central Region teams – No. 2 Lubbock Christian (17-1) and No. 17 West Texas A&M (15-3) – made the cut.
Ashland (19-0) remained the top team in the poll.
Both FLC teams will return to action at home Saturday inside Whalen Gymnasium. The women will tip off against Colorado Christian at 1 p.m., and the men will follow at 3 p.m.