The Fort Lewis College women’s soccer team announced its fall schedule last week and head coach Damian Clarke didn’t pull any punches when scheduling opponents.
The Skyhawks will open the 2019 campaign against four consecutive teams from the always-challenging Lone Star Conference and will end its non-conference slate against Eastern New Mexico University before getting into Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play.
Fort Lewis will kick off the season against Angelo State University at Dirks Field on Sept. 6, and will then face off against head coach Clarke’s former team, Midwestern State University, on Sept. 8 during the opening weekend of matches. Clarke also scheduled road contests against West Texas A&M University and ENMU. It is the same four non-conference opponents as last season.
The series against Angelo State has gone back to 2012, and the sides have met every year but one, in 2017, while the Skyhawks have played Eastern New Mexico in each of the last three seasons.
FLC ended last season with a 6-9-2 record and missed out on the conference tournament for the first time since 2001, but Clarke said the early season tests from Texas will do a young Skyhawks’ side plenty of good.
“I think that at the end of the day, we’re playing the best teams you can to start the year, and regardless of where you’re at in your development, the non-conference season can really set you up for later in the year,” Clarke said. “I’d like to think that playing the top teams in the Lone Star gives us a big chance to grow and figure it out. I’ve kept the schedule somewhat the same and I think we’ll be tested from the opening whistle against Angelo State.”
The RMAC campaign will begin Sept. 20 against Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, and is also in the middle of a three-game conference road trip. The first RMAC home game is against Colorado School of Mines on Oct. 4.
“There’s no easy way out for us in this conference, and since I left and then came back, it’s gotten so much better,” Clarke said, who is in his second stint as coach of the Skyhawks.
“No matter where you start the conference season or how far you’ve got to travel, everybody has to play everybody and it makes it entertaining. We’ve got a tough stretch to open the RMAC and then it won’t get any easier when Mines comes to town for our first RMAC home game. There’s no way to look at the schedule and think ‘that could be a spot where we can get three points, rest some players and get a win’ because it’s all tough.”
The Skyhawks will return most of the squad from 2019 after they lost two seniors, goalkeeper Kaylee Mickens and forward Renee Terrell. Emma Patron is returning and led the team in points last season after she tallied five assists and scored twice. Katie Smith is also another player to look out for next fall, as she tallied over 1,500 minutes on the pitch and added three goals and an assist.
Clarke changed his tactics during the spring season and said his team is embracing the underdog role.
“We had a really good spring practice and have heard some people talking about us being a bit better, and we are, but for me at the end of the day, if you’re not embracing the culture of the underdog mentality at Fort Lewis, you’re probably not getting the psychology right,” Clarke said.
The Skyhawks will have a crucial stretch to end the season, as it will host rivals Colorado Mesa University on Oct. 27 and then end the regular season on a two-game road trip against Colorado State University-Pueblo and New Mexico Highlands before the conference tournament begins Nov. 3.
Players report to preseason camp Aug. 19.
“I think people are going to see an exciting product and this team is just going to be more mature at the end of the day,” Clarke said.
“We’ve got a tough schedule, and with a young and talented group coming in, it will create a competitive atmosphere and we’ll be ready to compete differently.”