The next time Katrina Chandler hears her name announced inside Whalen Gymnasium, it will be for her hometown Fort Lewis College Skyhawks.
That wasn’t the case the last two women’s basketball seasons, as the 2017 Durango High School graduate signed with FLC rival Colorado Mesa University out of high school.
After two seasons with the Mavericks, Chandler announced she will transfer to FLC in Durango. She entered the NCAA transfer portal this summer and was released from Colorado Mesa without restrictions. She will not have to sit out and will have two years of eligibility remaining.
“Being on campus today with the coaches, it feels like a homecoming,” Chandler said.
A 5-foot-5 point guard, Chandler will rejoin coach Orlando Griego, who last month was named the interim head coach of the Skyhawks after one year as an assistant coach at FLC under Jason Flores. When Flores moved into an assistant athletic director role at FLC, Griego took over the program. Before his year on the Skyhawks bench, Griego served as assistant varsity girls basketball coach at Durango High under coach Tim Fitzpatrick.
“I’m so excited and happy,” Griego said. “The coolest thing is that I can coach her again. She’s a competitor, has championship experience in the RMAC, and she’s fierce. She’s going to be great for us, our team, everyone.”
Chandler was a star for the Demons as a three-time All-Southwestern League First Team selection. Her senior year of 2016-17, she was named the league’s player of the year. As a junior, she was a CHSAA Class 4A All-State honorable mention pick by the state’s coaches. Her senior year, she scored 15.4 points per game to lead the Demons. She also had 4.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game while she played through injuries and drew tough defensive matchups all year.
A 12-time varsity letter winner in golf, softball and basketball, Chandler was named The Durango Herald Female Prep Athlete of the Year for the 2016-17 school year.
Getting a chance to rejoin a team led by Griego was a big draw for Chandler.
“I have full trust in coach (Griego). He knows his stuff, and I have full confidence in what he believes in and how he runs his program,” Chandler said. “The competitive drive he has brings out that much more competitiveness in me, if that’s even possible. Us together, we are a threat.”
Chandler, daughter of Klint and Rebecca Chandler, said she wanted her family to be able to attend more of her games.
“My whole family is down here,” she said. “It was kind of hard not having them on the sidelines. In high school, the gym would go nuts every time we stepped on the floor. I missed the feeling of everyone knowing who you are and the community feel. I loved CMU, but Grand Junction is a bigger town and nobody knows each other. At FLC, the whole community can come support us like they did in high school.”
As a freshman at Colorado Mesa, Chandler saw limited playing time in 26 games. She averaged 2.3 points, one rebound and nearly one assist per game. Last year as a sophomore, she averaged 2.9 points per game. She had a career-high 11 points on Jan. 4 against South Dakota Mines. She made two 3-pointers Jan. 19 at Fort Lewis College in a 61-52 win for the Mavericks in which she played nine minutes.
Chandler said she has grown as a player after two years with a nationally-ranked program that went 46-14 overall and 33-11 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference the last two seasons. Last year, Mesa won the conference and hosted the NCAA Division II South Central Regional tournament.
“The years I spent at Durango with (Griego and Fitzpatrick) got me to where I am today,” Chandler said. “Two years with coach (Taylor) Wagner at CMU, he knows his stuff and how to get the best out of his players. I gained perspective of how good of a player I could be and how much work ethic that takes. (Wagner) helped me grow as a person and mature into my game.”
At FLC, Chandler will join a young team that gained valuable experience last season. She will form a quality guard duo with junior Sydney Candelaria, and senior Kayla Herrera-Flores will be able to slide over to her more natural place on the floor as a shooting guard rather that having to run the point.
“What I love about the FLC program is that it is super hard working,” Chandler said. “Sometimes, it’s not even about basketball skills but how much you want it and how much heart you have. FLC has that, and I’m excited to add on top of that. They have tremendous skill, hard work and dedication. I want to help build on top of that, and hopefully I can help the program out.”
Griego, who is also a Durango High alum, recently announced Dolores High alumna Cydney McHenry as his assistant coach. The Skyhawks also added DHS alumna Hilda Garcia from Otero Junior College this offseason as well as Jordan Vasquez from Farmington. With local coaches and players adding to the talent FLC boasts from around the region, Griego is excited about the direction of the program and the product fans will be able to come support.
“We are building momentum right now,” he said. “Everyone can see that we are looking around the area. Coach Flores always did a great job looking around this area, as well. We want locals that are really good basketball players. When it happens like this with (Chandler), it’s a great thing.
“Fort Lewis right now is rolling with all sports, and it’s an exciting time to be part of Fort Lewis College athletics.”