The Skyhawks didn’t return home to Durango with heads sagging after a tough 0-2 trip last weekend and 1-3 showing during a four-game road swing. After the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team proved it could play with the best teams in the conference in hostile gymnasiums, FLC came back home for a four-game homestand with high spirits.
“Last weekend, it didn’t go our way,” FLC head coach Orlando Griego said. “The biggest positive that we have is everyone is really excited for this weekend. We’re in great spirits, had a really good week of practice, and we know we can compete with anybody. We’re ready to get after it this weekend.”
FLC (11-5, 7-4 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) will enter the weekend in a four-way tie for fourth in the RMAC with Black Hills, Dixie and Mines. Only No. 22 Colorado Mesa (15-2, 11-0 RMAC), Westminster (15-2, 10-1 RMAC0 and Western Colorado (11-4, 9-2 RMAC) stand in front of the Skyhawks. It was Mesa that escaped a scare from the Skyhawks, 38-35, last Saturday in Grand Junction one night after FLC fell 84-72 to Western.
With Mesa and Western both slated to play against Dixie State and Westminster this weekend, the top of the standings could shake up, while the Skyhawks will try to stay in front of a couple of teams in the RMAC chase in Regis (7-10, 5-6 RMAC) and Colorado Christian (5-12, 5-6 RMAC) on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Tip off times are set for 5:30 p.m. inside Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
“These are really important games in a weekend with really big games going on across the league,” Griego said. “For us to have home games for the next two weeks, it’s really important for us to take care of business and stay where we’re are at, if not move up.”
The Skyhawks have been a force in Griego’s first season in charge. FLC is third in the conference in scoring at 67.6 points per game and also third in scoring defense having allowed only 58.2 per game. FLC is also holding teams to only 34.6% shooting while it has shot 40.1%.
The up-and-down style of play of FLC is especially beneficial on its home court with teams having to match the Skyhawks’ energy for 40 minutes after a long road trip.
“We get a big crowd, and it’s hard for teams to come out and play in that environment and with the type of tempo we want to play with,” Griego said. “On top of that, our girls play aggressive, and that catches some teams off guard.”
Evidence of FLC’s aggression comes in the rebound department, as the Skyhawks lead the conference with 43.9 boards per game. That figure includes an RMAC-best 14.4 offensive rebounds per game, spearheaded by freshman forward Jordan Vasquez, who grabs an RMAC-best 3.8 offensive rebounds per game.
The rebound battle will be key Friday night against Regis, the fourth-best rebounding team in the league led by Whitney Jacob, who has an RMAC-leading 9.8 rebounds per game to go with 13.4 points per game.
FLC will counter with Vasquez and Jordan Carter, who has 11.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while Vasquez has a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game to go with 10.7 points.
“Our girls are well aware that Regis rebounds as a team,” Griego said. “They are getting 40 a game in conference, so that’s going to be fun to see. Our girls know we have to go after the ball. This last weekend, we really learned how every possession matters. We have to eliminate teams get a second opportunity to score the ball.”
Colorado Christian will be led by Sam Nunez, who has averaged 12.4 points to go with 1.5 steals per game.
The weekend will feature three teams that do not shoot the 3-pointer very well, but Griego said his squad will maintain its confidence and willingness to shoot from outside.
FLC will try to maintain its balanced scoring attack with junior point guard Katrina Chandler, who is up to 10.8 points per game to go with 3.6 assists per game. She has the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 2.1. Junior guard Sydney Candelaria also has averaged 8.7 points per game.
“Any given night or quarter, someone is going to step up and score on this team,” Griego said. “There are always opportunities for different players to step up and run with it. We have a lot of confidence. As long as each person is chipping in, good thing will happen to us. Being at home in the gym we’re used to shooting the ball, we’re hoping to make a few more shots from the perimeter.”