No. 2 FLC wants back what Colorado Mines has taken

Sam Weiss and Brooke Milliet will look to do what Fort Lewis College couldn’t last year – beat Colorado School of Mines. No. 2 FLC will host its archrival at 1 p.m. today at Dirks Field. The Orediggers eliminated FLC from both the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and NCAA tournaments last year. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Sam Weiss and Brooke Milliet will look to do what Fort Lewis College couldn’t last year – beat Colorado School of Mines. No. 2 FLC will host its archrival at 1 p.m. today at Dirks Field. The Orediggers eliminated FLC from both the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and NCAA tournaments last year.

Colorado School of Mines made a statement last year not only to Fort Lewis College but to the rest of the women’s soccer teams in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference: What you want, we have.

After narrowly missing out on the league’s regular-season title, the Orediggers, who had beaten FLC 1-0 in the regular season, captured the tournament title with a shootout victory over the Skyhawks, then won the Central Region title by upending FLC 1-0 yet again.

The Skyhawks didn’t take too kindly to being knocked from their perch. After all, until last season, FLC had won either the RMAC regular-season or tournament championship four of the previous five seasons.

So when the Orediggers kept them from their goals both in the RMAC and in the NCAA Tournament, yeah, FLC noticed.

“How we say it is they stole something from us last year, and we want to come back and prove ourselves this year,” senior midfielder Elena Benavides said.

So far this season, the Skyhawks are up to No. 2 in the nation, their highest-ever ranking, and sport a 3-0-1 record after Friday’s scoreless draw at Colorado Mesa in its RMAC opener.

And while head coach Damian Clarke said his side isn’t out to avenge anything from last year, they’ll surely be up for the regular season’s only matchup with a burgeoning rival.

“There’s no doubt our girls just want to come out and perform and do what they can do against Mines. Mines is probably one of the most difficult teams in the country to break down. ... They’re a different animal than most of what we play,” Clarke said. “I think our kids are motivated to come out and play well.”

Clarke said what allowed Colorado Mines to get one-up on FLC last year and what makes them dangerous this year is their strength through the middle of the field.

Anna Evans was a National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-Central Region first team selection at forward last year after scoring 13 goals at forward, while RMAC Preseason Player of the Year Megan Woodworth had 12 goals and ranked sixth nationally with 14 assists from the midfield.

Throw in extremely capable midfielders and defenders such as Kelsey Neal and Dani Herring, and the middle of the pitch is a hard one to crack for Mines.

Benavides said the Orediggers’ physicality had plenty to do with last season’s outcomes, too.

“I think they just outdid us physical-wise last year. That was the only reason they beat us to be honest. ... They had more heart in that game that we played,” Benavides said.

Not that FLC doesn’t have a thoroughly capable roster of its own. Sam Weiss is as hot as anybody in the nation right now with six goals in three games, good for a tie for seventh in all of Division II. She had six shots, three on goal, in Friday’s draw.

The defense seems to be settling in nicely after adding a couple of new parts this year, while Benavides and Megan Striedel have piloted the midfield with aplomb to this point.

Clarke said he’s happy with the improvements made to this point, and he’s hoping those key areas will allow his team to do something it was incapable of for long stretches against Mines last season – possess the ball.

It’ll be a must in today’s archrivalry game if the Skyhawks hope to reverse recent history against the Orediggers. No. 2 FLC will host Colorado Mines at 1 p.m. today before the men’s game.

“That’s something that we didn’t do to Mines. We never made Mines chase a game,” Clarke said. “If we can make Mines chase a game, the whole mindset changes – not only ours but theirs as well.”

rowens@durangoherald.com