For the past four years, the Spalding University (Ky.) Golden Eagles have competed in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, but not as a full-fledged member. Spalding had to go through a provisional period for entrance into the NCAA where its athletic teams could qualify for the SLIAC and NCAA tournaments.
That provisional period is now over. Webster and the other members of the SLIAC now have a new foe to fend off, and it is a dangerous one.
Last April, Josh Sellmeyer wrote in his column, “The Sporting Insider,” about the possible threat Spalding could pose to the SLIAC in its first year of tournament eligibility. That prophecy’s coming to fruition.
The Golden Eagles will roll into town on Thursday, Feb. 7 to face the Webster men’s and women’s basketball teams in Webster’s home finale.
The Spalding men’s basketball team sits atop the conference with a 10-1 SLIAC record. The only time the Golden Eagles have been defeated this season was in a 4-point road loss against Eureka College (Ill.), currently third place in the SLIAC. Spalding has already defeated the Webster men’s team once this season and did so in dominant fashion, winning by 30 points.
Led by the top scorer in the conference — senior guard Dewhon McAfee, who averages 21.4 points per game — Spalding has the highest scoring team in the SLIAC. Its defense allows the least points of any SLIAC team. The Golden Eagles steal the ball more and turn the ball over less than any other team in the conference. Spalding’s combination of skill and smarts make them a force to be reckoned with.
The Spalding women’s team holds a 7-4 record and would make the SLIAC tournament as the fourth seed if the season ended today. Spalding’s stifling defensively, allowing the fewest points in the conference. Spalding has one of the SLIAC’s dynamic players in senior forward Kelly Harrod. She averages 18.4 points per game (third best in the SLIAC) and 10.3 rebounds per game (best in the SLIAC) making her one of only two players in the conference currently averaging a double-double.
Webster has long been the unofficial king of the SLIAC, winning the All-Sports Award 12 of the last 13 years. However, neither of the Webster basketball teams have been dominant this season. After winning the regular-season crown two years in a row, the men’s team sits in fourth place with a conference record of 8-4.
The Gorlok women have fared better, sporting a 9-4 SLIAC mark and currently residing in second place in the conference. The Gorloks finished in fifth place last season, but made the SLIAC tournament as Spalding was still ineligible for the tournament.
But that wouldn’t happen this year as Spalding’s ineligible period is over.
Webster will try to protect its turf and show it is still the elite program in the SLIAC. With the season winding down and both teams clinging to a spot in the top four, the importance of each win or loss is magnified even more. A win could keep them in the hunt, while a loss could weaken their chances for making the playoffs.
The last home game of the regular season for Webster will be memorable, regardless of the outcome. We could witness the beginning of a shift in the balance of power in the SLIAC. One night will not determine that, but one thing is clear:
Their wings are no longer clipped. The Golden Eagles have taken flight.