Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Two things stand between the Fort Lewis College men’s club lacrosse team and an appearance at the national tournament: a conference championship and about $17,000.
If all goes as planned, they’ll have the first of those by the end of next week; the second could be a little harder to grasp.
After playing to a 10-3 mark to date this season, the Skyhawks’ road to the national tournament will continue with their final game of the regular season at 7 p.m. today against Western State on Cedar Field at the FLC softball complex.
That win shouldn’t be too hard to get, senior captain, team president and defenseman Mike Kelly said at Wednesday’s practice.
“Western is kind of a friendly rivalry,” he said. “We should roll them pretty easily. We want to come out, have a really good time and finish the season on a high note.”
Then things get harder.
The Skyhawks currently are sitting in 26th place nationally on the Division II club circuit, FLC head coach Dan Riecks said. All of their three losses have come at the hands of top-20 teams, but that still leaves them out of the national tournament unless they make some waves at the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference Division II Tournament on May 4-5 in Grand Junction.
In order to secure a slot, the Skyhawks will need to at least play in the conference championship, if not win it.
First, they’ll play Metro State – a team they dispatched with ease 14-6 last week.
If FLC pulls off the rematch victory, Montana State is up next.
“They’re basically a shadow of us,” Riecks said of the 11-3 Bobcats.
Those two wins will put the Skyhawks in the conference championship game; a win there will put them in the national tournament, and a loss might just earn them an at-large berth.
But then things get harder still.
To take 23 players and personnel to the national tournament in Greenville, S.C., starting May 14, the FLC team will need to come up with about $17,000.
That comes out to about $500 per person in a sport that already costs each player about $1,200 a season, Riecks said.
Equipment routinely needs to be replaced, and the team frequently must travel hundreds of miles for games.
“The biggest issue we always have with this program is cash,” Riecks said. “It’s an expensive sport to play.”
The college covers between a quarter and one third of the club’s budget each year, Riecks said. Since the team has struggled in recent years, though, no one budgeted for a national tournament trip, so the cost will fall on the players and fundraisers if the Skyhawks make the cut. Riecks said a handful of players already have said they wouldn’t be able to foot the bill.
Over the course of the season, the team has held a couple of fundraisers, including a bachelor auction hosted by Moe’s bar that raised about $1,300 in “swag” donations like gift certificates. There isn’t much time before nationals for more fundraisers, so Riecks encouraged anyone who wants to give the Skyhawks a hand to donate through the booster club at fortlax.wordpress.com.
Other than that, the best thing fans can do is show up to support the Skyhawks against the Mountaineers. After all, the club wouldn’t be in this welcome pickle without this season’s surprising success – success that’s come with a change in culture and some fresh blood.
FLC added 16 freshmen to a roster with less than 10 returning players, including the team’s three senior captains: Kelly, Kevin Harkey and Joshua de Guzman.
Riecks said he has five true freshmen starters this year.
The men’s club has been around since 1985, but Riecks is the third head coach in four years for the Skyhawks, and he said the team pretty much started over from scratch this year.
The older players have taken the younger players under their wings and have started to build a new culture of success up on the hill.
“Everyone’s on campus eating together at the CUB and living together,” de Guzman said.
“It’s a nice dynamic,” Riecks said. “They’re incredibly close.”
The freshmen also have brought a lot of unexpected raw talent to the team, Harkey said, and that’s translated into a high-powered, crowd-pleasing offense in “a Native American sport at a Native American school,” as de Guzman put it.
“It’s the fastest game on two feet,” he said.
The team already has a loyal fan base which routinely shows up, even out of state, to outcheer opposing crowds.
“Our fans are just as intense as us,” Harkey said.
Kelly touted the fast-paced, flashy and hard-hitting nature of the team’s play as reason for fans to turn out for tonight’s final game.
There’s a conference scoring title on the line, too: Gian Sexsmith of Westminster leads the conference with 48 goals, while FLC’s Paul Larson leads Harkey by a hat trick – 47 goals to 44.