By Ryan Divish
To say that the Southern Oregon University Raiders have some incentive when they take the mat tonight against the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team would be a bit of an understatement.
Just over a year ago, the Lights strolled onto the Southern Oregon campus in Ashland, Ore. and thoroughly dominated the Raiders - handing SOU its first dual loss to an NAIA school in 33 years.
How dominating were the Lights? SOU head coach Mike Ritchey said his team "received quite a wrestling lesson" following Northern's 27-10 win. Adding, "We were looking to win, they were looking to dominate."
The Raiders would like nothing better than to return the favor, tonight against the Lights.
But don't expect the Lights and head coach David Ray to roll out the proverbial welcome mat to SOU. Losing a dual match at home isn't something that either Ray or his team want to experience any time soon. With only two home duals remaining on the Lights schedule, Northern has a little incentive of its own.
Regardless of either team's incentive, the match will be tough. Southern Oregon, the 2000-2001 NAIA National champion, brings a formidable squad into Havre. The Raiders, who are ranked fifth in the NAIA, feature a lineup that includes five returning NAIA All-Americans with six of its wrestlers ranked in the top six in NAIA.
"They have a pretty tough team," said Lights coach David Ray. "They have some really good kids in the middle weights."
Indeed, SOU has four two-time All-Americans at the 133, 141, 165 and 174-pound weight divisions as well as a good competitor at 157.
At 141, Northern freshman Anthony Haukenberry will face second-ranked Colin Murphy. Last season, Murphy split a pair of matches with Northern's Eric Dunmire. However, Dunmire lost his spot to Haukenberry and was recently ruled academically ineligible, effectively ending his career at Northern. But Ray has confidence in his freshman.
"Haukenberry's a freshman, but he's a good freshman," Ray said. "That kid split with Dunmire last year, but Haukenberry split with Dunmire this year."
Fellow freshman Aaron Jensen (165) will wrestle sixth-ranked Brian Wilson while Bobby Mantle will face a solid test at 157 in Missoula native Ryan Presta. Mantle lost a pair of one-point decisions to Presta last year. But as of late, Mantle has been one of Northern's top performers."
"Bobby's better than this kid," Ray said. "I don't know what the deal was before, but we'll make some changes."
Kyle Fisher gets the honor of wrestling Chris Huntley, who is perhaps SOU's best wrestler. Huntley is the NAIA's top-ranked wrester at 165, but will move up a weight class to face Fisher. Despite Huntley having to move up, Ray is concerned with Fisher's recent performances saying that Fisher was wrestling not to lose instead of wrestling to win.
"Fisher needs to pick it up a couple notches," Ray said. "I know what he is capable of and he knows what he is capable of, its just a matter of seeing it on the mat. The matches at 157 or 174 are must-win matches."
Those four matches, Ray readily admits could go either way. With Northern also forfeiting the heavyweight classification, Ray knows the possibility of SOU winning five matches is a possibility. But he is treating it just that way - as a possibility.
The only match that Ray will concede is the forfeit at heavyweight. Matt Carter, who recently became eligible to compete, won't suit up tonight. Carter returned home to Cedar City, Utah after his mother passed away from cancer earlier this week.
But the other matches, All-Americans or not, Ray still expects to win.
"I feel confident we can win every match," Ray said. "And we have the ability to win every match, if we wrestle up to our capabilities."
Northern's remaining wrestlers should bring home wins. Andy Thompson (125),Caleb Schaeffer (133), Dustyn Azure (149), Mike Lester (184) and Emmett Willson (197) have all been wrestling consistently. Lester and Willson, in particular, have been very dominant in the past few weeks.
"I feel very confident with the way Mike and Emmett have been wrestling lately," Ray said.
Ray, who no one could accuse of not being competitive, is optimistic about the dual, but maintains some perspective about its overall importance in the scheme of things.
"This dual is very important," Ray said. "If we lose, it would be an upset, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. We still have plenty of important duals left in the season."
Northern and Southern Oregon will take to the mat tonight at 7 p.m. at the MSU-Northern gymnasium. The match will be broadcast on 92.5 KPQX-FM.