The stakes are high. The competition is fierce. The Skyhawks are ready.
At home for the final time this season, the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team will welcome the top two teams in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in No. 24 Colorado Mesa University (21-4, 17-2 RMAC) and Western Colorado (17-6, 15-4 RMAC).
The Skyhawks (15-9, 11-8) aim to right the ship after a four-game losing streak saw them slip from fourth place in the RMAC to a tie for seventh. FLC has only one game of separation inside the top eight with three games to play, as only the top eight teams make the conference tournament. At the same time, FLC is only one back of fifth place.
FLC will be happy to play at home at 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, first against the nationally-ranked Mavericks with a white-out game inside Whalen Gymnasium on Friday. FLC is 13-1 at home this season and undefeated at home in RMAC play. That contrasts a 2-8 record on the road.
“A win would be huge,” FLC head coach Orlando Griego said. “I still think we’re playing pretty good basketball. Our team believes that. Knowing we’re at home, it brings a different element. We play really well at home, and teams seem to struggle here. We get the crowd with our great support system here, and it would be a huge win for us moving forward. I know how bad the girls want to get back to winning, and we’re going to do everything we can to win.”
The Skyhawks dropped a tough 38-35 game against Colorado Mesa on Jan. 18 in Grand Junction. That came one night after a 84-72 setback at Western Colorado in Gunnison.
FLC’s last win against the Mavericks came Dec. 8, 2017.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” FLC junior forward Jordan Carter said of the Colorado Mesa matchup after FLC’s 74-72 overtime win when it was last at home Feb. 1 against Westminster. “The last time playing with (Kayla Herrera-Flores) against them. We’re hungry.”
“Starving,” interjected Herrera-Flores, one of three FLC seniors. “It’s super exciting to know we get them in our gym this time with our fans, our crowd, our hometown. It’s going to be tough, and we’re ready for that challenge.”
The fourth-ranked scoring offense of FLC (67.3 points per game) will match up with the top two defenses in the RMAC this weekend. Colorado Mesa has held opponents to a NCAA Division II best 48.2 points per game this year, while Western Colorado (53.9) is second in the RMAC and 10th in the country. Both teams have held opponents to less than 35% shooting from the field.
Colorado Mesa’s Daniella Turner has averaged 15.6 points per game. Last time FLC faced her, Sydney Candelaria’s defense limited Turner to six points.
“Sydney, her number is called upon to shut down leading scorers,” Griego said. “She played a huge role in stopping (Turner) last time, but even more our team defended well and rebounded the ball. That’s what kept us in that game.”
Friday night is a chance for Durango fans to support Durango High alumna Katrina Chandler, a junior point guard for FLC who transferred from Colorado Mesa after two seasons with the Mavericks. She will be matched up on Sydni Brandon, a Grand Junction High alumna who spent her freshman season at Fort Lewis before she transferred to her hometown college.
Brandon has averaged 7.4 points to go with 6.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. She leads the RMAC with 2.7 steals per game and has the best assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.6.
Chandler has the second-best assist-to-turnover mark at 1.7. She has averaged 9.7 points and 3.5 assists per game.
“It’s a big matchup,” Griego said of the point guards. “We’re really gonna try to have Katrina run our offense and push the pace and get her downhill into the paint. We also have to come back and defend because Sydni Brandon does a great job of pushing the ball up in transition or keeping it alive rebounding the ball. She gets a lot of steals and is hard to handle, but I think Katrina is going to be able to do what we need.”
FLC has been led by the forward combo of Carter and freshman Vasquez, who has 11.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while Carter has 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Chandler is third on the team in scoring, while Candelaria has scored nine points per game.
FLC will look to honor Herrera-Flores and her fellow seniors Aubre Fortner and Kaitlyn Romero in Saturday’s senior night game against a Mountaineers team on a four-game winning streak.
Western Colorado has done it without a player averaging double figures, but four women have scored nine or more per game. Samthan Coleman leads the team with 9.8 points per game to go with 4.9 rebounds. Gabie Doud has averaged 9.5 points and six rebounds per game. Hannah Cooper and Katie Dalton also check in with more than nine points per game.
“We gotta buckle down, understand our defensive assignments and make sure we are limiting teams to one shot only,” Griego said. “I think we got away from really boxing out and going after that ball and keeping teams to one possession. If we can do that, we will have a great opportunity to win some games.”