The Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team is heading back to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Tournament for the first time since 2017, after the Skyhawks topped Colorado State University-Pueblo 2-0 on Sunday at Dirks Field on the final day of the regular season.
Fort Lewis College head coach David Oberholtzer said he was proud of his team for responding in a must-win game.
“Obviously it’s a big win, an emotional win and it’s senior day,” Oberholtzer said. “If we win, we’re in, or if we lost, Pueblo is in. Both teams knew there was a lot riding on it. I’m glad to get the win. It wasn’t pretty by any means, and thought we were off our game, and we did what we needed to get the win.”
The Skyhawks (10-4-4, 8-4-2 RMAC) opened the scoring in the 21st minute when Brantley Bice connected on a free kick from 20 yards out. It came after a handball was called near the top of the 18-yard box. Bice stepped up and curled it into the top left corner of the net to make it 1-0. That was the score at halftime.
The ThunderWolves (7-11, 7-7 RMAC) almost found a response on a number of occasions in the second half. The best chance to equalize came in the final 12 minutes of the match, when they had three shots that tested FLC goalkeeper Peter Byrne, but none were on target and went wide of the goal.
CSU-Pueblo head coach Roy Stanley thought his team did well to search for a late game-tying goal, but was unable to finish chances.
“Both teams played great and we knew it was going to be a battle,” Stanley said. “We showed some class in certain spots. Overall, I thought it was a solid match. We changed to a 3-4-3 formation with 11 minutes to go, and at that point in time, we had to go for it. We created some chances, but it also leaves you vulnerable for a counterattack. I thought we did the best we could there, but it was all you could ask for.”
In the 88th minute with the ThunderWolves pressing for an equalizer deep in FLC’s half of the field, junior forward Ryan Lee stole the ball. He dribbled the length of the field, and with one defender to beat, used his speed to get past him and passed it to a wide-open Hakeem Rabiu. The senior forward finished the chance to make it 2-0. He removed his shirt in the celebration and was subsequently shown a straight red card. As a result, he will miss the RMAC Tournament first-round match.
“It’s great to get a goal on senior day,” Rabiu said. “It’s great for Ryan Lee to pass me the ball, and I was able to finish. For me, being senior to clinch it for us, it felt great. My last touch ever on Dirks (Field) was a goal. It can’t get much better than that.”
With Colorado Mesa picking up a win over Adams State on Sunday, it moved up to the No. 3 seed in the RMAC Tournament. As a result, Fort Lewis College will travel to Grand Junction to play the Mavericks (10-4-3, 8-3-3 RMAC) on Friday with the time to be determined.
Women’s soccerFort Lewis College 4, New Mexico Highlands 0The Fort Lewis College women’s soccer team also booked its place in the RMAC Tournament for the first time since 2017, with a convincing 4-0 road win over New Mexico Highlands on Sunday in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
The Skyhawks (7-6-3, 6-4-3 RMAC) opened the scoring just 12 seconds into the game, as senior Bailey Webster found the back of the net on a pass from fellow senior Courtney Wamboldt to make it 1-0.
FLC scored three times in the second half, as Webster added a second in the 67th minute to make it 2-0. Just three minutes later, the Skyhawks added a third goal, as Katie Smith scored on a pass from Emma Patron. Freshman Kinley Carter wrapped up the win with FLC’s fourth goal in the 86th minute.
In order for FLC to ensure its place in the tournament, the Skyhawks had to win their final four games of the regular season. Fort Lewis College head coach Damian Clarke said that the grit his team showed in the final month of the season was special to see.
“The team has turned out to be resilient, tough and it keeps getting a little bit better every time we go out,” Clarke said. “Getting those first two goals by Bailey, it was nice to have a senior kid come through with a bit of weight on her shoulders, doing business for the girls. I wish I knew where the lightning in the bottle happened. But realistically, this group has been making progress for two years. I think sometimes, you don’t always see progress through results, and I think they’ve been brave to keep digging and fighting for each other.”
The Skyhawks earned the No. 7 seed and will travel to Golden to face No. 2 Colorado School of Mines (15-2-1, 11-1-1 RMAC), ranked No. 16 in the nation in the quarterfinals of the RMAC Tournament at noon on Friday.
“We’re happy to not be done, and know we’re going to be fighting for another game,” Clarke said. “We’ve had four straight games with our backs against the wall, and they found a way to win in all of them. The seniors don’t want to be done. The team doesn’t want to be done. I think that’s always going to be the message moving forward: Let’s go earn another game.”