After a moving pregame ceremony to celebrate Native American Heritage Month and the Nike N7 game, the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team roared out to 11-0 in the game’s opening 5 minutes, 10 seconds and never looked back Friday against New Mexico Highlands University.
Kayla Herrera-Flores, one of five Native American players on the FLC roster, opened the game with a steal and a fastbreak layup. Moments later, she buried a 3-point shot, and the Skyhawks were off and running. FLC (2-1) never trailed and went on to claim a 77-48 victory inside Whalen Gymnasium.
As one of 15 colleges in the nation to earn a Nike N7 Fund game, the Skyhawks wore their custom turquoise jerseys with hawk-feather trim. It was the third consecutive year FLC has earned a Nike N7 game, an organization that raises money to support athletics in Native American and Aboriginal communities.
“It’s an honor to be able to represent the foundation and Native American youth, a lot of them look up to student-athletes,” said Herrera-Flores, a senior who has played in all three Nike N7 games at FLC. “It’s a great role for us to be able to represent, go out there and win and show that Native athletes are capable, more than capable, of achieving great things.”
Herrera-Flores finished with a team-high eight rebounds for FLC. She also had 13 points and five assists. Jordan Carter, healthy after missing much of last weekend with an illness, had 10 points and six rebounds.
FLC played a well-structured basketball game while the Cowgirls (0-4) were content to settle for long 3-point attempts. FLC held Highlands to 9-of-29 shooting from 3-point range and 30.4% overall from the field.
The Skyhawks had a considerable advantage in size and depth. And FLC made plenty of its own shots from outside with 12-of-27 from 3-point range. FLC shot 8-of-10 from 3 in the fourth quarter to really blow the Cowgirls away.
FLC maintained its advantage and led 18-7 after one quarter despite committing five turnovers.
Behind a pair of 3s from Maiah Rivas and Jordyn Lewis, the Cowgirls got within 18-13 with 8:29 to go in the second quarter. That forced FLC head coach Orlando Griego to take a timeout. The Skyhawks would restore their lead to 26-15. The lead would be 32-25 at halftime. FLC cooled considerably in the second quarter after it shot 61.5% in the first. The Skyhawks shot only 31.6% in the second quarter.
An extremely-slow paced third quarter saw Highlands cut the FLC lead to 36-32 with 4:52 to go. But FLC closed the quarter on a 8-0 run to take a 44-32 lead. Tough play by freshman Jordan Vasquez of Farmington was key to the end-of-quarter run.
Vasquez opened the fourth quarter with another basket to get to a team-high 13 points. She finished with 17 points and also had seven rebounds. In only her third-career collegiate game, Vasquez has now been the top scorer for FLC twice.
“I think we needed an energy boost,” Vasquez said. “I just wanted to really rebound, try to get the ball and be aggressive. I’m really confident in my abilities. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity.”
FLC had some special moments in the fourth quarter. Freshmen Ilyssa Galindo and Hannah Gover each made a 3, as FLC put all four of its healthy Native American players on the floor together. Herrera-Flores backed up their shots with a 3 of her own to the delight of the crowd. Marieka Dent completed the run of 3s for FLC’s Native American players with one of her own with less than 90 seconds to play, and Griego gave an emphatic high-five to assistant coach Cydney McHenry in celebration. Galindo would add another 3 in the final minute.
“You could feel the energy in the gym,” Herrera-Flores said. “It’s good to know we can stretch the bench and can play all 15 of us. ... It’s so exciting to know the players are confident enough to put the ball in the hoop and all got that opportunity. It was fun.”
FLC sophomore Alyssa Adams also made her return to the court. A starter a year ago before an Achilles injury ended her year early in the conference season, Adams checked in and immediately made a 3 that made the FLC bench erupt with joy, and Griego called a timeout to let them celebrate together.
“You want to celebrate in that time, and that’s the reason I called a timeout,” Griego said. “Credit to her, she’s really put in a lot of effort to get back to where we know she can be. Her journey has been hard. Any season-ending injury has ups and downs. We wanted to celebrate that up at that time. She definitely felt the love there.”
Lewis finished with 16 points for the Cowgirls, which were outrebounded 45-31. Rivas added 13 points and six rebounds.
The Skyhawks will have an entire week off before they host Northern New Mexico at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 23.