The countdown to college basketball season is on in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Preseason coaches polls were released Thursday. After a pair of disappointing seasons for the Skyhawks men and women a year ago in which both FLC squads missed the eight-team conference tournament fields, it was no surprise that FLC didn’t rake in the kind of votes to be considered among the league’s elite.
The FLC men, which went 12-16 overall and 7-15 in RMAC play last season, were picked seventh in the 16-team conference. The Skyhawks received 131 points. Colorado School of Mines was once again picked the favorite to win the league with 224 points and 14 out of a possible 15 first-place votes. Dixie State, in its final season in the RMAC before a transition to Division I, received one first-place vote and 198 points to come in second, while Regis had 185 votes. The other first-place vote went to Metro State University-Denver, which ranked fifth with 156 points behind last year’s conference tournament champion New Mexico Highlands, which earned 163 points.
FLC ranks behind UC-Colorado Springs (146) but came in front of Colorado Mesa (127) and Black Hills State (123).
“Until they give out RMAC championship rings and banners for the preseason poll, our program won’t put much stock into it,” FLC head coach Bob Pietrack said. “We play in the most challenging league in all of Division II basketball. The RMAC conference is a complete beast. We look forward to competing against the best and are counting down the days until we open the season in Whalen Gym.”
Though FLC lost only three seniors from last year’s team, Pietrack revamped the roster with eight new players. The Skyhawks didn’t have any players named to the preseason “players to watch” list, which replaced the preseason All-RMAC team this year. That came with a glaring omission to junior forward Riley Farris, who had to undergo shoulder surgery last year after he opened the season averaging double-digit points per game.
FLC also will benefit from the addition of senior transfer Danny Garrick out of Nicholls State. During a preseason trip to Costa Rica, FLC went 3-0 with wins against the top pro team in the league as well as the national team. Garrick made 3-point shots at a high rate on that trip and showed he will be a big weapon for the Skyhawks along with returners such as Brenden Boatwright, Brendan La Rose and Will Wittman, who will benefit by being surrounded by potential new stars such as point guards Logan Hokanson and Akuel Kot.
The Skyhawks will open the season with a pair of key home games against South Central Region opponents Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico Nov. 9-10. FLC’s new-look team will benefit from playing its first eight games at home before its initial road trip Dec. 13 to face South Dakota School of Mines and Black Hills State.
“The best time of the year, basketball season, is near,” Pietrack said.
Women’s basketballThe FLC women were picked 11th in the RMAC preseason coaches poll with 79 points.
Defending champion Colorado Mesa was once again picked atop the conference with 215 points and nine first-place votes. Five first-place votes and 209 points went to Westminster, and Mines earned 192 points and the one first-place vote to come in third in front of Metro State (180), Black Hills (151) Western Colorado (150), Regis (141) and CSU-Pueblo (135).
Dixie State came in ninth with 122 points but earned a first-place vote. UCCS is one spot in front of FLC with 108 points, while the Skyhawks ranked ahead of Colorado Christian (67).
The Skyhawks are eager to get a new season rolling under new head coach Orlando Griego, who was promoted when Jason Flores resigned this summer to accept an administrative position with FLC athletics.
“We are not looking too deep into preseason polls,” Griego said. “I know we will go out every night and compete at a high level. We have a motivated group that will be really fun to watch.”
FLC had two players make it on the players to watch list in junior forward Jordan Carter and junior guard Sydney Candelaria.
Carter had an up-and-down junior season with a hot start that was derailed a bit by illness. She averaged 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game and shot 47% from the floor.
Candelaria had a breakout season at point guard and also averaged 10.1 points to go with 3.5 rebounds and two assists per game. FLC has nine new players this season, including Durango High alumnas Katrina Chandler, who transferred from Colorado Mesa, and Hilda Garcia, who came in from Otero Junior College.
The Skyhawks also returned plenty of talent in Aubre Fortner, Hanna Valencia, and Kayla Herrera-Flores, who has the potential to play at an All-RMAC level again her senior season. The Skyhawks also will benefit from the return of sophomore Alyssa Adams, who started as a freshman last season before an Achilles injury sidelined her for the rest of the season.
The Skyhawks will take on Northern New Mexico on the road Nov. 2 before hosting Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico at noon each day Nov. 8-9.