NWIC men's basketball team is not afraid of tough competitors

NWIC took on the University of Alaska Anchorage on Dec. 15 and 16.

On Dec. 29, the Northwest Indian College (NWIC) men’s basketball team went toe to toe with Montana State University (MSU) in a David-and-Goliath-style match up. The NWIC Eagles were defeated 101-70, but they played a strong game and demonstrated, once again, that they aren’t the kind of players to shy away from a challenge.

While the MSU Bobcats is a Division I NCAA team representing more than 11,000 full-time-equivalent students, NWIC Eagles is a small, unaffiliated team. NWIC is a tribally-chartered school headquartered on the Lummi Nation with approximately 851 full-time-equivalent students at its seven locations on reservations throughout Washington and Idaho.

This game wasn’t the first in which the Eagles proved their willingness to take on tough teams. Over the past couple of years the team has taken on some much larger competitors, including Hawaii Pacific University, University of Hawaii-Hilo, Brigham Young University-Hawaii, University of Alaska Anchorage, and Simon Fraser University.

The Eagles have yet to defeat any of these big schools’ teams, but they are playing well and holding their ground – often coming within 10 points of a win.

“I think it’s frustrating for the guys that they know they are competing hard against these teams and coming up short,” Eagles head coach Greg Mahle said, “but the overall goal is to win another AIHEC championship, and I think we’re playing the right teams to do that.”

In March 2012, the Eagles took first place in the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) national basketball tournament, and coach Mahle said his team could take first again, in large part because of the experience they’re getting playing these strong teams.

So far this season, the Eagles record is 12-16, and that number includes some big wins against historically strong competitors, said Krista Mahle, NWIC athletic director. 

This November, for the first time in the team’s history, the Eagles defeated Whatcom Community College.

“I’m proud of how the guys have played so far this year,” Krista Mahle said. “They’ve done a great job of representing the college in a positive way on a regional and national level.”

Krista Mahle said she never expected the Eagles to travel so much and so far for games.

“We are a small college that’s not that well known on a national level,” she said.

But the team continues to be invited by these bigger teams to compete.

“I believe our guys have the ability and the talent to play with the other teams,” coach Mahle said. “That shows in the invitations we’re receiving.”

The team has received invitations to play next year in Hawaii and at Simon Fraser University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Lewis and Clark State College. And a dialog has begun about potential match ups with Seattle Pacific University and Western Washington University, NCAA Division II 2012 champions.

Competing against these strong teams not only helps to prepare the Eagles for the national AIHEC tournament, it also takes them in the direction they want to go as a program, coach Mahle said.

Krista Mahle said the Eagles athletic department is working hard to establish itself right now, and would eventually like to join the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), an association comprised of approximately 350 small-college athletics programs in the United States.

The Eagles next game is scheduled for Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. at Lummi Nation School gym. They will take on Multnomah University out of Portland.