MISSION - The Nixyaawii boy's basketball team received a brutal initiation into the Big Sky Conference, as the schedule pitted the Golden Eagles against No. 7-ranked Horizon Christian for their first league game.
To make things more difficult, the Golden Eagles (3-5, 0-1 Big Sky East) are just now starting to find the best combination of players, replacing the five departed starters from last season.
Still, first-year coach Aaron Noisey was pleased with his team's effort as the Eagles held the Hawks (8-0, 1-0 BSW) to their lowest point total of the season, but still lost 46-36.
"(The Hawks) are a tough team," Noisey said. "They play together well as a team. But I thought our team showed a lot of improvement. We're coming together."
Nixyaawii struggled to find a rhythm all night offensively, but managed to hang around due to stalwart defense. Twice the home team held the Hawks to single digits in a quarter, and almost found an opportunity to pull ahead late in the fourth.
"We have some heart," senior point guard Jordan Ball said. "We're a young team and we're still learning. We have all new starters this year, so we're gelling right now. We're almost there."
The major downfall of the Eagles came right out of the gate. Horizon Christian's Bobby Cofrances scored nine of his 14 points in the opening frame, opening up a six-point lead the Eagles would never overcome.
"We have to play good the whole game so we're not down at the end," Nixyaawii guard Isaiah Case said. "We have to run our plays a little better to get better shots."
Facing a deficit that reached as great as 13, the Golden Eagles started to catch fire late. Ball hit two of the team's five three pointers in the final quarter, and Case added one of his own.
Time simply ran out on Nixyaawii, though, as the team was forced to resort to fouling the Hawks with just a minute remaining.
Horizon Christian's Adam Ohlson scored the final five points for his team, including three free throws to seal the deal with just 20 seconds left.
Despite the loss, the Eagles have started to mold their identity according to Noisey.
The backcourt has developed into the go-to group for the team offensively - Ball, Case and sophomore Shawn Simpson all scored at least eight, accounting for 26 of the team's 36 total points. And defensively the coach thinks that his players have finally grasped the importance of rebounding and keeping pressure on the ball.
Combining that with the valuable experience in playing one of the strongest teams in the state at the 1A level, and the Eagles feel like they can really contend in the BSC.
"Any time you can play a quality opponent it's good for your team," Noisey said. "But to have (the Hawks) at the beginning of our season is a real positive for us. We know what we have to do and we know we won't face anyone tougher than them. There's improvement and we have to build on it."
HCHS (8-0, 1-0 BSC-W) 16 9 12 9 - 46
NIXY (3-5, 0-1 BSC-E) 10 8 8 10 - 36
HCHS - Adam Ohlson 17, Bobby Cofrances 14, Josh Larson 8, Jake Johnson 5, Nate Boyden 2
NIXYAAWII - Isaiah Case 10, Shawn Simpson 8, Jordan Ball 8, Sterling Sampson 6, Randy Robinson 2, Bobby Van Pelt 2
3-point field goals - HCHS 2, Nixyaawii 5. Free throws - HCHS 6-12, Nixyaawii 5-8. Fouls - HCHS 8, Nixyaawii 10.
NIXYAAWII 53, HORIZON CHRISTIAN 19 - In Mission, the Golden Eagles girls (8-0, 1-0 BSE) remained undefeated by dismantling the Hawks (0-8, 0-1 BSW) in their conference opener.
Despite not having a player score more than 10 points, Nixyaawii put up 53 points and took the visiting team out of the game by the half with an 18-point lead.
"We played really good defense tonight," coach Jeremy Maddern said. "We rotated some bodies in there and our younger girls made some good contributions."
Mariah Withers led the team with 10, but 10 different players finished the game with points, which has been the constant theme of the season to this point for Nixyaawii.
The win was also a great stepping stone for the Eagles according to Maddern as they now travel to Condon-Wheeler today to face one of the sternest opponents in the BSE.
HCHS (0-8, 0-1 BSC-W) 2 8 6 3 - 19
NIXY (8-0, 1-0 BSC-E) 14 14 14 11 - 53
HCHS - Anna Berthold 11, Christina Brown 4, Sonna Winkel 3, Liz Taylor 1
NIXYAAWII - Miriah Withers 10, Mariah Watchman 7, Kristi Miller 7, Kanish Perry 5, Nika Kash Kash 4, Chelsey Minthorn 4, Viola Minthorn 4, Suzette Whiteowl 2, Cheridy Edgmand 2
3-point field goals - HCHS 0, Nixyaawii 2. Free throws - HCHS 4-17, Nixyaawii 7-13. Fouls - HCHS 13, Nixyaawii 16.