Simmons earning her Skyhawk wings

Lady Bobcat Michelle Simmons
Former three-sport Lady Bobcat Michelle Simmons, now a Fort Lewis College Skyhawk, stands proudly outside Whalen Gymnasium’s doors Thursday, Nov. 7th. Simmons will be spending her first season at FLC as a redshirt, allowing her to build her skills and knowledge of the college-paced hoop game.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Her LeBron James-esque 24-point, 10-rebound output as evidence, Arizona’s LaBrittney Jones could have shown Michelle Simmons in person that freshmen don’t play like freshmen at the NCAA level.

However, the former Ignacio High standout was unable to travel down to Tucson, Ariz., for the Nov. 2nd exhibition game and witness her new teammates challenge (and, by an 80-65 verdict, lose to) the Division I Wildcats inside their famed McKale Center.

“I was sick – had, like, a viral infection,” Simmons said Thursday afternoon, Nov. 7 – roughly 50 hours before her Division II Fort Lewis College teammates tipped the 2013-14 season off in Durango – outside the doors to Whalen Gymnasium.  “They had a scrimmage Wednesday that week too, and I couldn’t participate in that either.  I was SICK.”

But no matter; having been previously approached by both D-I Cal State-Fullerton and D-II Adams State University to ball this winter, Simmons wouldn’t have been surprised by the skills displayed.

“Just to be a college athlete is just … crazy!” stated the graphic-design major proudly.  “You never really know what you’re getting yourself into, until you’re actually doing it.”

“We are excited to add a local player with a bunch of potential,” second-year head coach Jason Flores – a 1995 U of A graduate – said in a late-summer press release.  “Michelle is an athletic guard that has a chance to become very good here.”

Part of a rookie crop including in-state products Skylyn Webb (4A Delta), Clare Nicolas (4A Elizabeth) and Kelsey Wainright (5A Highlands Ranch), with Ande Lampert (5A Boulder; transfer from Stockton, Calif.-based, D-I University of the Pacific) going into a redshirt-freshman season, Simmons would have likely found only minimal minutes while also behind seniors Erika Richards (20 points against ’Zona) and Ashley Kuchar (12 points) on the Skyhawk depth chart.

So, in a team-first move, she very recently elected to gain learning time over playing time.

“I’m a redshirt,” said Simmons.  “Still part of the team and everything, but [Flores] asked us how we felt about it and I volunteered willingly.  Because it just makes me that much better, and it gives me more time to play.  It’s nothing negative; I’m actually really excited to do it.”

“This incoming class … has a little bit of everything we needed,” Flores added.  “It gives us the ability to have great depth, and competition in practice should be great.  We are really looking forward to blend in the skills … these players bring along with those of a great core of returners.”

“She sets an awesome example – she shows what’s possible.  Michelle carries that ‘torch’ to go, ‘Hey!  You can do what you want if you put your mind to it,’” said new IHS girls’ varsity coach Shane Seibel.  “So it’s a wonderful opportunity for … Michelle … to really inspire her peers.  Especially here.”

With multiple appearances as a spectator inside IHS Gymnasium during the now-completed volleyball season, it was clear that Simmons still had untapped reserves of motivating Bobcat pride.

“It definitely feels like everything seems smaller,” she said of her next-level transition.  “And it’s just cool to go back and see my old teammates and stuff; you’re not supposed to forget about them, because they’re a part of the reason why I’m here.  I think it’s cool to go back and support them.”

“It’s a big difference going from Ignacio to a college team.  Because in Ignacio you go to school with them all the time, you see them every day,” she continued.  “Here … everyone’s trying to do their own thing, but we always have team hang-outs and stuff like that so it’s cool.  I really love my teammates.”

Receiving votes in the USA Today/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association preseason poll, released Oct. 29th, Fort Lewis’ first official opponent was Northern New Mexico (Española, N.M.; NAIA Div. I) College, with the Eagles coming in already 1-1 overall.

“We already know what to expect because … it’s not like you can really play around.  It’s serious,” Simmons said of the now-underway season.  “Practice is the same way; you have to go a hundred percent the whole time.  In Ignacio we got yelled at, here you’re going to get it worse – you expect it.  It’s college!”

Coming off an 18-11 (16-6 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) season, ending with a bid to the South Central Regional Tournament, the ’Hawks will next head to Stephenville, Texas, to take on Tarleton State University and Denton, Tex.-based Texas Woman’s University [Nov. 15th and 16th, respectively] inside TSU’s Wisdom Gym at the 2013 TexAnn Tip-Off Classic.

FLC then returns to Whalen to welcome Austin, Tex.-based St. Edward’s University on Nov. 29th.

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