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FLC women win Nike N7 game over NNMC

Freshman Lenae Billy scores career-high 18 to lead all scorers
Ember Cervantes of Fort Lewis College drives to the basket on Friday night while playing Northern New Mexico at FLC. Cervantes was one of three FLC women recognized for their tribal affiliations before tipoff of the Nike N7 game. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

In front of a crowd 2,000 strong, the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team earned its first home win, 80-70, over Northern New Mexico College on Friday during the annual Nike N7 night. Honoring Native American Heritage Month, the Skyhawks dressed in their turquoise N7 jerseys and welcomed local tribal leaders for a pregame blessing and warrior song to get the evening underway.

In addition to the festivities put on by local tribal nations, three FLC women’s basketball players were recognized for their tribal affiliations before tipoff. Receiving special nods were Ember Cervantes (Mescalero Apache), Tayla Nez (Diné Navajo) and Lanae Billy (Diné Navajo).

Lanae Billy of Fort Lewis College puts up a shot on Friday night while playing Northern New Mexico at FLC. Billy was one of three FLC women recognized for their tribal affiliations before tipoff of the Nike N7 game. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“To me, Nike N7 is a chance to play for my community back home while honoring my ancestors,” Cervantes said. “We do a good job of appreciating that, and we receive a lot of support.”

On the court, the Skyhawks had several season highs against the Eagles. FLC shot a season-high 45.6% (26-of-57) from the field. The team had a similar mark of 45.5% (10-of-22) from three to mark a season-best. FLC also set season marks in rebounds (39), assists (13) and free throws made (18).

“Offensively, I thought we were really good tonight. We had a confidence to us, and there was a flow to our play which made for plays that were really fun to watch,” said head coach Taylor Harris. “I’m proud of the swagger that we played with. I’m happy to see that so early in the season.”

Freshman Billy led all players with 18 points, a career-high, by going 6-of-12 from the field and 4-of-8 from three. The Skyhawks had 11 additional players pick up points in the win, including nine points from both senior Nez, who made 3-of-4 3-pointers, and freshman Ruby Sweeney-Spitzeck. Junior Kelsey Sorenson turned in eight points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes of play.

The Skyhawks won the opening tip and immediately dished it to Nez, who scored the first bucket from deep in front of a contingency of friends and family. The game stayed tight before a jumper by Sorenson gave FLC a lead it would never surrender. Sorenson and Nez combined for five points in the next two possessions to build the advantage to 13-6. After a wave sub, senior Alyssa Adams wasted no time draining a three to give FLC an eight-point lead. Senior Kaitlyn Bell scored the Skyhawks’ final basket of the quarter to make it 22-10.

A trio of freshmen opened the second quarter with scores, including Kate Gallery, Audra Vine and Billy, to extend the lead to 32-14. The Eagles scored in the next three possessions to make it 35-20, but a layup by Sorenson, assisted by Bell on the perimeter, built the lead back to 17 points. Sophomore Sadie Misner nailed a pair of tough jumpers to see the score at 43-25 with 2:06 to go. The teams traded free throws down the stretch to make it 47-29 at the half.

The free-throw trend carried into the third quarter where Northern New Mexico earned four before a three from Billy got FLC on the board. The sharp-shooting freshman followed it up with another bucket from beyond the arc, bringing FLC’s lead to 53-33 with 7:44 remaining in the third. The Skyhawks took their largest lead of the night, 62-39, when Sweeney-Spitzeck converted a steal to a fast-break layup with four minutes to go.

The good times continued to roll in the final quarter for FLC, first with a layup by Sorenson. Vine then followed with a corner to push FLC to the 70-point mark.

The Eagles then rallied with a 15-0 run to narrow the lead to 70-60 with 3:18 to go. Billy finally paused the momentum with a jumper, but the lead remained at 10 heading into the final minute of play. Northern New Mexico made it a 78-70 game with a layup, but sophomore Samantha Wattawa put a stamp on the win with a jumper to run out the clock.

FLC (2-1) was also scheduled to play Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Arizona) in Alamosa at 3 p.m. Saturday as this paper was going to press. Embry-Riddle is 4-2 overall after dropping a 80-58 decision to Adams State University on Friday.

Fort Lewis College plays some tough defense on Friday against Northern New Mexico College at FLC. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Kelsey Sorenson of Fort Lewis College drives to the basket on Friday night while playing Northern New Mexico at FLC. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Avery Evans of Fort Lewis College battles as she puts up a shot on Friday night while playing Northern New Mexico at FLC. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Sadie Misner of Fort Lewis College battles for a loose ball on Friday night while playing Northern New Mexico at FLC. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Ruby Sweeney-Spitzeck of Fort Lewis College puts up a shot on Friday night while playing Northern New Mexico at FLC. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)