Whatever it takes
Taylor Rock does the little things to help Mavericks
The lanky guard, ponytail flying behind her, sprints to the corner after a loose ball, flipping it behind her back into play before disappearing from view.
As she sprints back onto the court, the crowd roars its approval.
On another possession, she steps in on defense, planting herself between a player driving through the lane and the basket, taking the full force of the contact and hitting the deck. Her teammates rush to help her up, patting her on the head.
The offense hasn’t been there this season for Taylor Rock, but there’s no denying the 5-foot-10 junior guard is doing everything she can think of to contribute to the fourth-ranked Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team.
If that means taking a charge or her momentum carrying her off the court and into the Maverick head tunnel for a loose ball, so be it.
“You have to find something you can do to help the team,” Rock said. “Coach Wag (Taylor Wagner) always says the loose ball or taking a charge is our version of a dunk because none of us can dunk, but it gets the crowd into it and it helps get everything into a rhythm. It gives you momentum going back the other way.”
The Mavericks (26-1) will take all of the momentum they can get tonight against rival Fort Lewis (18-9) in the semifinals of the RMAC Shootout at Brownson Arena. Colorado Mesa plays the second semifinal at 7:30, after Metro State (20-9) plays Colorado Christian (17-10) at 5:30 p.m.
Mesa and Fort Lewis played a donnybrook less than a week ago at Brownson, with the Skyhawks leading until the final 13 minutes of the game.
Teeth were chipped (Christie Groh and Mary Brinton, said Fort Lewis coach Jason Flores) and lips bloodied (Alex Easterbrook and Kelsey Sigl) as the teams played a physical, emotional game, neither leaving anything on the floor.
“That game Saturday was so much fun,” the Mavs’ Katrina Selsor said Wednesday after practice. “It was a lot of fun. It was physical, and I think we hurt ourselves at the beginning getting down. It was fun that we had to play catch-up.
“They know our strengths and weaknesses, but we did a lot of things defensively that we don’t normally do and gave them a few more open looks at the basket. I think if we can break ourselves down on defense and do better on defense, we’ll be OK.”
Flores, like the Mavericks’ Wagner, is in his first year as the Skyhawks’ head coach.
“It was a physical game, and (the officials) allowed it to be. We got frustrated and a little out of sorts,” he said. “We learned a lesson. It was an emotional game for a little bit, and we let it get to us.”
Playing again so quickly could help both teams calm down a bit, but then again ...
“It’s going to be a definite physical battle, but gosh, it’s going to be fun,” Sharaya Selsor said. “There’s a rivalry that’s been there the last few years, and the last thing we want is for them to come in and take away something we’ve worked so hard for.”
Fort Lewis has won the past two RMAC Shootout titles, but this team is vastly different. Last year the Skyhawks were senior-laden, and only a few on this year’s team got a lot of playing time.
Add that to the coaching change, and it took a while for things to shake out in Durango after a 1-5 start. Since then, though, Fort Lewis has been a tough opponent, winning 10 of its past 11 and 17 of 21.
“Obviously Mesa is a great team, and I’ve got tons of respect for those players,” Flores said. “Taylor has done a great job. We know the challenge ahead of us, and to turn around and play so quickly, I don’t know if that’s an advantage or disadvantage. We could have done some things better that we’ll try to do this game.”
The Skyhawks are No. 8 in the South Central Region rankings this week, right on the bubble, and a win over the No. 1 team in the region would solidify a playoff spot.
Even a loss shouldn’t kill their playoff hopes, barring upsets with nonranked teams winning conference tournaments and taking someone’s spot with an automatic bid.
“Playing them, our strength of schedule will go up,” Flores said. “Nobody else in the region has to play the No. 1 team in the region three times. This last month, we’re 5-1 against teams ranked in the region, with our one loss being Mesa.”
Playoff experience, even if it’s from the bench or on another team, is crucial at this time of year.
The Mavericks haven’t made it out of the first round the past two years, but Rock won a regional title at Otero Junior College last year with Wagner, placing eighth in the NJCAA Division I national tournament. Bruna Deichmann was on Alaska-Anchorage’s team that made the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
“It’s definitely helpful having postseason experience,” Rock said. “You kind of know, not exactly what’s going to happen going into certain games, but you’re more prepared that anybody can beat anybody at any certain time.
“You’re expected to win, but no one’s guaranteed to win, so you have to go out and play every single game. That’s how you have to approach every game.”