Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
Six years is a long time.
Six years ago, George W. Bush occupied the White House, while Barack Obama simply was the junior senator from Illinois. TV was interrupted by the Writers Guild of America strike. “The Departed” took home Oscar’s best picture.
It was that long ago, in the 2006-07 season, that the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball program last missed the NCAA Tournament. This year’s squad, after overcoming a 1-5 start, sits at 12-8, knocking on the NCAA Tournament door but far from assured of getting the selection committee to answer.
This weekend allows the Skyhawks to make a statement on their home floor against a pair of teams sitting just ahead of them in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference standings – CSU-Pueblo and UC-Colorado Springs – with second-place Metro State looming the next weekend.
Senior guard Katerina Garcia said the players are aware of the opportunity lying before them.
“I think we all realize that, and I think we’re all really excited to play this weekend,” Garcia said.
“We’ve gotten more of a set offense, and our defense has gotten way better, and I think we’re just excited for a little bit of ... comeback from the last time we played them.”
Head coach Jason Flores said directing focus will be critical down the stretch, as thinking too much about what it takes to get to the dance could distract the Skyhawks with the dance partner immediately in front of them.
“We’re not thinking about that because as soon as you start thinking about that, you lose focus on what you need to do,” Flores said. “I mean, if we play well and we happen to win some games, that stuff will take care of itself at the end.”
It helps that FLC enters winners of its last four games. The Skyhawks have won those games fairly convincinly, as well, averaging a winning margin of 11.5 points over those four games, boosted in large part by a 20-point rout of Adams State.
The most recent three of those victories also have come on the road, although against competition that doesn’t quite stack up record-wise to the next three opponents on the schedule.
Last time FLC faced the ThunderWolves and Mountain Lions, the Skyhawks were swept on the road. Those two games came at the end of a lengthy season-opening road trip and were the first two RMAC games of FLC’s season.
Since then, FLC has righted the ship, going 11-3 with a six-game winning streak and their current four-game push.
In other words, while CSUP and UCCS are improved, so, too, are the Skyhawks.
“That was the end of our four weeks on the road, and at the time, I knew they were going to be good teams. Now you look back, and that was the fourth week on the road, and you’re playing two good teams on their home court,” Flores said.
“And that was a tough road stretch. Now, it’s been so long since we’ve played them, both ways we’ve had so many games in between, it’s coming back around.”
The offense has gotten back in tune as well after an uncharacteristically poor shooting night derailed the Skyhawks at home against Colorado Christian on Jan. 25.
FLC responded the next night with an 80-point outing, and the only time it has tallied less than 70 points in this winning streak came in the 20-point thumping of the Grizzlies.
While the unit as a whole has powered this late-season run, perhaps the biggest catalyst has been Garcia. She’s admittedly not big on checking her stat line, but to recap, the Durango High School alumna has gone for 12 points (eight assists), 21 points, 12 points (nine assists) and 23 points in her last four games.
Numbers aside, Garcia said she’s just happy to be performing at a high level once more as her collegiate career, and the Skyhawks’ regular-season, enters the homestretch. And an NCAA berth would keep that run going even longer.
“It’s more that this is it for me; I’m almost done,” Garcia said. “And honestly, I don’t know if this is my best basketball, but I’m definitely getting back to who I used to be, I feel, which makes me sad because this is it, and I’m just now deciding to play the way I know how to play. Hopefully that continues. I’ve only got a few games left in my career.”