Abby Escandon and Ann Nelson hadn’t been to the conference tournament since they were freshmen. Friday presented a golden opportunity to get back to that stage for the two seniors and the rest of the Fort Lewis College women’s lacrosse team.
The Skyhawks entered the day fourth in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) standings in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference with two games to play in the regular season. Only the top-four teams qualify for the RMAC tournament, and one of the teams in contention to pass FLC paid a visit Friday to Durango.
After going down 3-1 early, FLC dominated much of the rest of the match against Colorado State University-Pueblo on a perfect afternoon at Ray Dennison Memorial Field. Escandon, who scored a team-high four goals, would tie the game at 6-6 late in the first half. She then assisted Haley Dostie for another goal with 5 minutes, 54 seconds to go before halftime and then scored one more goal of her own on a free-position shot to give FLC a 8-6 lead before the break.
The Skyhawks never trailed again en route to a 17-13 victory.
“This was a win we wanted and needed,” Escandon said. “The whole team came out and gave 100% on the field. I wanted to come out today and show everyone I could be a leader and do the things coach asks me to do, and it felt really good to get a couple goals today for my team.”
FLC (4-6, 3-5 RMAC) led by as much as 16-7 in the second half behind a big 6-0 run sparked by stout defense, strong work in goal by Averi Basso and a flawless attack from the Skyhawks.
“The stuff we worked on in practice really showed up today and helped us dominate everything,” FLC head coach Ashley Travis said. “We knew we had to work on our clears and shooting low on their goalie. That helped us win this huge game.”
The ThunderWolves (4-9, 2-6 RMAC) got back in the match thanks to a 5-0 run behind three goals from Baylee Mee to cut the FLC lead to 16-12, but a Liv Crawford goal for the Skyhawks with 8:14 to play put FLC back in control.
FLC was whistled for only two yellow card fouls in the match compared to five from CSU-Pueblo. The Skyhawks also converted goals on five out of nine free-position shot opportunities.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is we are the classiest team in the RMAC. Refs tell us that all the time,” Escandon said. “We have fewer players than every team we play, but we show up every game and show teams that they can knock us all around all game but we don’t care and we’re going to keep playing all 60 minutes.”
Basso made six saves for FLC, while Ane Marie-Horton was credited with 15 saves in the loss for CSU-Pueblo.
Crawford, Dostie and Nelson each had three Skyhawk goals. Caprietta Abbadessa scored twice, as did Maren Clark.
Avery Joslin shined defensively with four ground balls while Rebecca Kiyokawa had three ground balls. Kiyokawa, a freshman, was all over the field for FLC. She came up with several key steals and hustle plays to trap ThunderWolves attackers before help could arrive.
“(Kiyokawa) is a hustler. It looked like she had a backup engine today,” Travis said. “And I think Jojo Lutz had an awesome game today, too. Shutdown defense with those two working together on the defensive end.
The win gave the Skyhawks a season sweep against the ThunderWolves after a 13-11 win in Pueblo in the season opener. Escandon said Friday’s win showed how far the team has progressed since that first game.
With a home finale at 1 p.m. Saturday against Adams State, a team the Skyhawks beat 25-1 with a record-setting performance March 27 in Alamosa, FLC feels confident it can maintain position in fourth place in the RMAC going into next week’s RMAC tournament.
“We are super excited to make that last game push to the playoffs. It’s super exciting for our young team,” Travis said.
Westminster College (4-6, 4-4 RMAC) is the lone team that could still catch FLC in the RPI standings, and the Griffins will face second-place Colorado Mesa University (7-4, 6-1 RMAC) on Saturday. Westminster lost 18-11 at Colorado Mesa earlier this season.
For Escandon, a trip to the RMAC tournament for the first time since 2018 is a chance to instill a legacy to a roster full of young seven freshmen and six sophomores.
“This is the youngest team I’ve ever been part of, and being on the road a ton has helped so much with our team bonding,” said Escandon, who will graduate this spring and return home to Idaho and start her own coaching career. “We haven’t been to the RMAC tournament since I was a freshman, and I didn’t realize how much I missed playing on that stage until I started thinking about it. (Nelson) and I talked about it and how we want to take this team to the RMAC and kind of leave them with something other than just losing. It’s nice to know we have the chance to go back and we can compete with teams twice the size of us. It’s not about numbers, it’s about heart and talent.”