By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team is doing more than just trying to win a dual tonight in Dickinson, N.D. against the Dickinson State Bluehawks.
Also on the line is seeding points for the Northern regional tournament later in the season, and most importantly seeing a direct rival for the NAIA national title and the opportunity to send them a message. But it isn't going to be easy.
Unlike Saturday's dual opponent, the Jamestown Jimmies, the Bluehawks will put a fair amount of talent on the mat tonight.
DSU, which placed 10th at last year's NAIA national tournament, return several wrestlers from last year's squad and is ranked eighth in the NAIA preseason poll.
Bluehawk head coach Thadd O'Donnell returns the most wrestlers in the history of the program and combined with a strong recruiting class, Dickinson could be a force.
"They had a talented team last year," said Northern head coach David Ray. "And they are even more talented this year. They are going to put a good team on the mat with more talent than Jamestown."
DSU returns 11 wrestlers that qualifed for the national tournament last year, led by 174-pound champion Larry Johnson and All-American Shamar Pigg at 184 pounds.
However, Johnson and Pigg most likely will not compete. Johnson has not practiced thus far this season and his status is uncertain. Pigg, according to the DSU website, is redshirting this season. In August, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment in a plea bargain after an incident where he and two other DSU athletes allegedly kidnapped and terrorized a student over some stolen drugs.
With their top two wrestlers out and a wealth of newcomers from California, Ray isn't certain who his wrestlers will be facing.
"I have no idea who they are going to put out there," Ray said. "He brought in a lot of new guys. They have 15 new wrestlers from California alone."
A few wrestlers likely to be on the mat will be Gabe Harry at 174. A two-time national qualifierm, Harry is ranked sixth in the NAIA at 174 and will face David Waters.
Junior college transfer Marcos Austin is ranked sixth at 141 and sophomore Kyle Nay, a former Northern wrestler, should also be there at 149.
"This is going to be a good test for us," Ray said. "We need to go out and get the job done because this will affect the seeding at regionals and we want to show them that we are still the team to beat."