FLC vs. Mines: It’s ‘a dream’

Archrivalry game ‘something special’

Aaron Kloer and Fort Lewis College last took the home pitch against Cory Dean and the FLC soccer alumni, a good rivalry in its own right. Today, the 22nd-ranked Skyhawks will play one that counts: FLC will host archrival Colorado School of Mines at 3:30 p.m. today at Dirks Field. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Aaron Kloer and Fort Lewis College last took the home pitch against Cory Dean and the FLC soccer alumni, a good rivalry in its own right. Today, the 22nd-ranked Skyhawks will play one that counts: FLC will host archrival Colorado School of Mines at 3:30 p.m. today at Dirks Field.

By now, if you’re a soccer fan, you know the storylines when Fort Lewis College and Colorado School of Mines get together.

The battle for conference supremacy. Bragging rights. NCAA Tournament seeding. The coaching matchup of FLC’s Oige Kennedy and Mines’ Frank Kohlenstein.

Apologies to Bob Dylan, but the times, they aren’t a changin’ as far as this rivalry’s concerned in 2012.

The stakes are the same as they’ve ever been. They may even be heightened given recent results, as both teams logged their first losses of the season last weekend, and the Orediggers added a tie with CSU-Pueblo to their ledger, while the No. 22 Skyhawks narrowly avoided the same fate against Colorado Mesa thanks to Yannis Becker’s golden-goal heroics.

“Of course every single game is important, but the Mines game is always something special. ... We take every single game really serious, but this game ... I think everyone 100 percent is really up for this game,” defender Johannes Sander said.

And why shouldn’t players love to play in this game, play for these teams? The two have accounted for every Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular-season title, save for one, since 2000. They’ve accounted for every RMAC Tournament title except two since the event’s inception in 1996.

Simply put, they’re the two programs by which RMAC success is measured.

What makes the battle a bit different this year is a change in the national landscape. The NCAA realigned the regions for this season, with the RMAC now joining the Heartland and Lone Star conferences in the South Central region. The shift also cut down the available NCAA Tournament slots in men’s soccer between the conferences from four to three.

So even as early as this game is in the calendar, it could have tremendous impact down the road for both team’s postseason hopes.

“I think we’re still competing against the same amount of quality teams, but there’s one less space, so we’ve really got to work extremely hard to be on top of that pile come the end of the season,” Kennedy said.

“If we get the three points (today), we are on the top of the league. We are again the leaders of the league, and we have everything in our own hand after that,” Sander said.

The Orediggers (3-1-1, 0-0-1 RMAC) bring in their typical array of talent. Tesho Akindele, the RMAC Preseason Player of the Year, has six goals and two assists in just five games, good for the RMAC lead in goals and points. Alex Nass leads the conference with three assists, and former RMAC Defensive Player of the Year Manville Strand anchors Mines in net.

“They have still got a lot of their offensive weapons they’ve had before ... I think what they may have been able to correct is some of the defensive weaknesses they had last year,” Kennedy said.

Becker’s been the main force so far for the Skyhawks (4-1-0, 1-0-0 RMAC), sitting second in the RMAC behind Akindele with four goals, and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Ryan Schaul is second in the league with a 0.77 goals-against average.

All this makes for a wonderful home-opening brew, set to be served to Durango at 3:30 p.m. today at Dirks Field.

On paper, it appears like a daunting home opener for the defending champions.

Sander, however, wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I think it’s, for everyone, a dream. This game pushes everyone to the limit, and it’s the perfect start to open the home games,” Sander said.

rowens@durangoherald.com