DURANGO, Colo. — Hayley Hollenga scored two goals as No. 14 Fort Lewis (13-1-3 overall, 10-1-2 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) defeated New Mexico Highlands (9-7-1, 7-5-11) 2-1 today at Dirks Field.
“That’s the best that we’ve been this year thus far,” said fifth-year FLC head coach Damian Clarke. “We were just class.”
Clarke said the play of his central midfielders — Sara Egbom and Elena Benavides — allowed the Skyhawks to dictate the flow of the game. “It started with Eggie dominating in the air,” he said. “Everything that they put in the air, she just hammered back in and gave us a chance to get into good position.”
Also factoring heavily into the victory was the play of FLC’s back line — central defenders Madyson Wellcome and Lauren Riley and outside backs Nicole Schumacher and Ashley Kniffen. The group kept last year’s RMAC and Central Region Player of the Year, Julissa Rodriguez, from registering a shot in 79 minutes of action. “The back four had their best performance of the year,” Clarke said. “Madyson and Lauren made sure that Julissa had a tough time.”
By disabling the dangerous NMHU attack — the Cowgirls came into the game as the hottest team in the conference, going 7-0-1 in their previous eight games and outscoring their opponents 30-4 during that stretch — Fort Lewis was able to register quality scoring chances of its own.
Hollenga, FLC’s career leader in goals (42), assists (30), and total points (114), got the Skyhawks on the board at 33:20 after Schumacher found her in the right side of the box. Schumacher had taken a free kick a few seconds earlier that was punched out by NMHU goalkeeper Scottie Prince. She played the rebound back in to Hollenga, whose shot beat Prince to the far post.
Hollenga netted the eventual game winner at 69:00 when Emma Cannis crossed a ball in front of the goal from left to right that Hollenga buried into the middle of the net. The two markers pushed Hollenga’s season total to a team-high nine.
“Both Emma and Hayley were fantastic,” Clarke said.
Although the Skyhawks dominated possession, shots (25-5 overall), and shots on goal (9-4), the Cowgirls pressured late. Nancy Nuñez found Marci Johnson open in space on the right side in the 76th minute. Johnson fired a well-placed shot to the far post to trim the lead to 2-1.
The Cowgirls couldn’t get any closer, though, launching just two shots (one on target) in the final 14 minutes as FLC continued to possess the ball and force NMHU defenders to clear the ball out of bounds or over the end line to set up FLC corner kicks. Instead of playing balls into the box, the Skyhawks were content to play the ball short and maintain possession deep in Cowgirl territory.
Prince finished the game with seven saves, while Amanda Raso made three for FLC.
The Skyhawks wrapped up their regular season home slate with a perfect 7-0-0 mark.
Although they have just one game remaining in the regular season — a 1 p.m. showdown at Regis (12-4-0, 9-3-0) next Sunday — the Skyhawks could still drop to second or third place in the league standings should they lose to the Rangers. Two teams can still catch FLC: Regis, which plays at Adams State (6-8-2, 3-7-2) on Friday before hosting the Skyhawks on Sunday; and No. 19 Colorado Mines (12-2-2, 8-2-2), which travels to Metro State (12-4-1, 8-4-1) on Friday and to Colorado State-Pueblo (5-9-3, 2-7-3) next Sunday.
Fort Lewis leads the RMAC with 32 points, trailed by Regis (27) and Colorado Mines (26). Three points are awarded in the league standings for a win and one for a tie.
A win or a tie at Regis next Sunday would clinch FLC’s second straight RMAC regular season crown and ensure home games throughout the league playoffs.
Today marked the final regular season home game in the careers of seniors Egbom, Hollenga, Jane Barden, and Michelle Felten. All four factored into the scoring today.