Don't let the Northwest Indian College men's basketball team's final 19-18 record fool you - the Eagles were anything but mediocre.
A number of those losses came because of a very difficult schedule that included road trips to face NCAA Division I Montana State and Division II opponents Alaska Anchorage and Simon Fraser.
And if that weren't enough, NWIC added a second straight American Indian Higher Education Consortium Tournament championship earlier this week.
The Eagles' tough schedule may have prepared them to successfully defend their title in their fourth straight trip to the championship game.
"The competition we saw at that level (on the road trips) far surpasses anything we saw all year," Eagles coach Greg Mahle said in a phone interview. "Playing those games showed us the intensity and how fast-paced the game is and helped prepare us."
NWIC put those lessons to work March 14-17 at Cloquet, Minn., winning all six games it played to repeat as champion in the tournament considered to crown the national champions among tribal colleges.
Though all tribal schools are eligible to play in the tournament, they must earn their way in to the bracket through pool play, Mahle said.
The Eagles swept all three games in their pool, beating Oglala Lakota College 73-67, Navajo Technical College 61-40 and tournament host Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College 61-57.
That sent NWIC to the tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, March 16, where it beat Fort Berthold Community College 98-78. Mahle said Mike Schjang and J.J. Nixon stood out in the game, especially on defense.
The Eagles then moved on to a semifinal showdown with Salish Kootenai College - a rival that beat NWIC in two straight AIHEC championship games, before the Eagles won last year's title.
"That was the one we really wanted," Mahle said. "That's our top rival. Everybody played really well in that game."
The Eagles had five players score in double figures to emerge with a 114-102 victory.
They didn't get to celebrate long, though, as they had to turn around and play Oglala Lakota College again in the championship game that afternoon. The game ended up going into overtime, before NWIC emerged with a 111-107 victory to claim the title.
Doug Williams scored 39 points in the game, and Josh Nelson added 33 points and 15 rebounds, including a key offensive rebound and put-back he turned into a 3-point play to give the Eagles a lead they would not relinquish in the game's final minute. Randy Evans had another put-back basket to clinch the victory.
"It was amazing," Mahle said. "The guys that came back really wanted it. The new guys that came in bought into the direction we were going, and the support from the community and college was tremendous."
Mahle said that eight members of the team were members of both AIHEC championship squads the past two years and four players are in their third year after joining the new bachelor's program offered at NWIC.
The team was welcomed home on Monday, March 18, by a parade put on by the Lummi Nation.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
2012-13 NWIC EAGLES
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.