HELENA — There's always a number of different factors that play into the decision of where to attend college, but one thing Blayne Ehlke didn't expect to impact his choice was COVID-19.
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ehlke, who played football for Helena Capital, as well as being a member of the Helena Lacrosse Club, wasn't sure if he wanted to pursue athletics after high school.
But then everything changed. After getting to play in just a couple of out-of-town tournaments, the season was canceled for the Helena Lacrosse Club, just like sports across the country and the world.
"Our team goes to Boise, Idaho for a tournament every year," Ehlke said. "We got to do that and an indoor tournament in Bozeman and that's the only time I got to play. Other than that, our whole season went down the drain because of this (COVID-19) stuff."
That lack of a final season brought about a change in the senior's thinking.
"Earlier on, I was contemplating if I wanted to play college lacrosse at all," Ehlke said. "I thought I was maybe done and just wanted to go to college and then I got this entire season taken away and that's made me really eager to just play again."
Thankfully for Ehlke, Northwest Nazarene, a four-year school in Nampa, Idaho provided the perfect opportunity.
The Nighthawks are a NCAA Division II program that's part of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. The school has offered baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, cross country and track and field before, but not Lacrosse, at least not as an official sport.
However, that's changing next year as the Nighthawks will take part in their first official Men's Lacrosse season in the spring of 2021. NNU will be part of the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association at the Division II level and will compete in the Pacific Northwest Collegiate Lacrosse League, which features a number of schools, including Montana and others from the Northwest such as College of Idaho, Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon and some Pac-12 schools that play in a higher division.
But unlike the University of Montana, which doesn't offer scholarship money to play lacrosse, NNU does and with the chance to pursue a medical degree, it proved to be an ideal situation.
"I'm going to study pre-med," Ehlke said. "They have a good medical program, which also drew me towards going there."
Yet, just because Ehlke has lofty academic goals, doesn't mean he can't hang on the field and as a defender, the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder excels, in part, because of what he learned on the gridiron.
"I'd say the toughness you learn in football is the biggest help," Ehlke, a former offensive lineman said. "You see that playing against kids who didn't play football. They aren't as physical and you can just tell they don't want to have that contact."
That toughness will be needed as Ehlke and the Nighthawks look to build their program from scratch. But in some ways, that's exactly what made NNU appealing.
"I know a lot of kids that go out of state and never see the field," Ehlke said. "Plus all of their equipment is brand new. They have their own field, they don't share a football field and they also have their own indoor facility, so that all of that drew me in."
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