By Ryan Divish
Something that looked so good to Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray a week ago, is now looking a little like a mistake.
After about four weeks of tough competition, the Lights took a short break from competition last weekend. Ray hoped that the break would allow his wrestlers to rest and recharge for the stretch run to the NAIA National Tournament on March 7-8 in Great Falls.
Instead, the break may have been more hurtful than helpful. Ray will find out as his team takes to the mat tonight for its final home dual of the season against Western Wyoming Community College and travel to North Idaho Community College for a dual tomorrow.
"When we came back on practice on Monday, it looked like the week off kind of hurt us," Ray said. "I guess I'll find out tonight and Friday night. It just seems like this time of year, if they don't have something going on every week, they let their weight get out of control."
Ray has been on his wrestlers about having to cut too much weight before weigh-ins. He delivered the ultimatum that all of his wrestlers make weight on Wednesday, so they aren't cutting too much water weight the day of the match. Against Northwest Community College earlier this year, several of his wrestlers were clearly fatigued in the third period from having to cut too much weight the day of the match.
"I am making them get down earlier this week," Ray said. "That way they can get some food in their system and it makes their body feel better. If I don't do it this way, they just starve themselves the day of the match."
No matter how they feel, Northern should take care of Western Wyoming. The Lights defeated the Spartans, 47-6, on Nov. 15 in Green River, Wyo. Western's only points came from a forfeit at heavyweight.
This time around, Northern will have Matt Carter at heavyweight and Ray has high expectations of the match.
"This match, I am going in with the attitude of going out there and shutting them out," Ray said. "It's important that we try and win every match and build some confidence for North Idaho."
Is a shut out unlikely? Not completely. However, Northern's biggest test will come at 141 where true freshman Anthony Haukenberry will face a junior college All-American in Ryan Harmon.
"Harmon's tough," Ray said. "He didn't wrestle against us the first time because they were saving him for another match. That match should be very good."
Ray will also be keeping a close eye on the two matches at 165. With Northern allowed 12 wrestlers at nationals, Ray has four wrestlers joining Bobby Mantle at 157 for nationals. Both Aaron Jensen and Neil Samoy are in that foursome and both will wrestle at 165. Ray knows that both wrestlers would be best suited for 157 instead of 165 and will be watching how each performs closely.
While Ray is looking for a shutout on Thursday, he holds no such thoughts for Friday's dual against North Idaho.
The Cardinals, ranked second in the NJCAA, are loaded in the middle weight classes and will give the Lights a solid test overall.
Northern will be without Carter on Friday, who's tough season continued with the passing of his grandfather. Carter will attend the funeral on Friday and Northern will forfeit the heavyweight division.
"With the forfeit we could end up each winning five matches," Ray said. "They're really tough especially in their middle weights. It could come down to pins."
Haukenberry's tough weekend continues as he faces former Hardin standout Chris Nedens, who transferred to NIC from the University of Nebraska. Nedens was a former four-time Montana State champ.
Another former Montana wrestler Kari Stanley will present a tough challenge for Lance Nelson, who is replacing an injured Dustyn Azure, at 149. Stanley, who starred for Columbia Falls, finished second in the NJCAA national championships.
Bobby Mantle will also face a tough opponent at 157 in Stryder Davis, who placed second at the NJCAA national tournament in 2001. Davis has beaten Mantle twice this season by scores of 7-4 and 6-4 in overtime. They were matches that Mantle had chances to win and Ray believes Mantle may put everything together on Friday.
Besides the Northern varsity squad, several other wrestlers will be competing this weekend at the Jamestown College Open in Jamestown, ND.
Chris Smith (133), Jake Osborne (149), Ron Oliver (157), Neil Samoy (157), Luke Heuberger (157), Dave Waters (174), Mike Schnittgen (HWT) will all be competing with several looking to qualify for the national tournament.
"It's important that they wrestle well," Ray said. "Jake, Neil and Luke need to qualify for nationals, if they don't qualify, they don't go to regionals. and I want them to be proud and represent MSU-Northern."