Perhaps its the schedule, or perhaps the real Skyhawks finally are standing up.
Whatever the scenario, whatever the reason, Fort Lewis College womens basketball enters play today winners of four of five and playing its best basketball of the year, reaping the confidence that comes with it.
A key road sweep coming out of the holiday break last weekend pushed the Skyhawks to 5-6 overall after an uncharacteristic 1-5 start, including a five-game losing streak. More importantly, the wins over Chadron State and Black Hills State got the Skyhawks to 4-3 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, placing them back in the middle of the pack and keeping them in prime contention for an RMAC Shootout bid, at the very least.
In order to reach some of our goals, we had to start making a little bit of a run in conference, FLC head coach Jason Flores said. We were able to do that, so thats really nice, but getting a road sweep is important to start that. But weve got to come home now and defend home court in order to keep that rolling.
Now, Fort Lewis returns home looking to keep the momentum going coming out of the break and to get over .500 overall with games against 3-9 New Mexico Highlands and 1-11 Western New Mexico, which hasnt won a conference game since the 2010-11 season.
A dangerous road trip to face Regis and Metro State looms next weekend, so building as much momentum as possible this weekend is critical before FLC again tests itself against the leagues best a lofty echelon the Skyhawks themselves hope to return to.
Sometimes coming after break, it feels like its a whole new season. ... I think for us, confidence-wise especially, it was really important for us to get those two road wins and come home and hopefully have a couple more, guard Ashley Kuchar said.
The time off around the holiday break seems to have worked wonders for Kuchar. The junior guard was tabbed as the conferences top defensive performer for her work in last weekends sweep.
Kuchar wasnt too shabby on the offensive end, either. After scoring just a combined 28 points in the four games before the break, the Provo, Utah product had 15 against Chadron State and tied a career high with 24 against Black Hills State.
Always defensively solid, the increase in offensive output was a welcome sign for FLC from the teams leading scorer at 13.3 points per game. And a big weekend did wonders for Kuchars confidence after a bit of a lull.
Obviously, when things are going well offensively and defensively, its going to help your confidence and motivation, she said. So I think, I mean, its great to score points, but I just think our team was playing a lot better. Things were flowing, and obviously its really fun when thats happening.
The Black Hills State game was good for the psyche of pretty much every starter. All five scored in double figures in that victory, with the Skyhawks 80 points their best scoring output to date this season.
But perhaps the biggest positive sign for Flores was the performance and continued growth of his bench. Kaile Magazzeni poured in 16 points in the win over Chadron State, while Mary Brinton chipped in four rebounds in 13 minutes.
The reserves also helped force 27 Eagle turnovers in a game that wasnt as close as the 78-66 score indicated.
Defensively, we forced a lot of turnovers, which was key for us because it gives us a lot of extra possessions offensively, Flores said. Until we developed more depth ... we werent able to really play the way we needed to. Getting into a half-court slugfest is not really our team this year and our game. But weve got better contributions from players off the bench, which has allowed us to substitute more.
With the schedule set to stiffen a bit over the coming weeks, it wont be long before this edition of the Skyhawks determines where it stands. Are they the squad that struggled early on away from home? Or are they the one in front of us now, turning in repeatedly improving performances?
If we want to stay in the running, its necessary to (keep winning), Kuchar said. I think weve had a lot of close games beforehand. We just struggled to finish it out. So for us to finally close out some games and get it going that way, its definitely refreshing.