By Ryan Divish
The Southern Oregon University wrestling team will have to wait for a few years to end this streak.
The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team won seven of 10 matches including one by pinfall and another by medical default to soundly defeat the Raiders, 27-13, Thursday night at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
A year ago, the Lights ended SOU's 33-year home dual unbeaten streak against NAIA teams and the Raiders hoped to return the favor this year. However, Northern put on an impressive performance in front of large, boisterous crowd and extended its home winning streak to almost eight years.
"The last time we lost a home dual was in my second year," said ninth year head coach David Ray. "I think it was against Western."
Indeed, Northern's last home dual loss was in January of 1995 against Western Montana College. Much has changed since then. The school is now called UM-Western and the wrestling program there is nothing but a memory.
But one thing that hasn't changed since then has been Northern's dominance at home. Thursday night was no different. The Lights came out and set the tone of the dual early winning the first two matches.
Ray had hoped to start the dual at the 149-pound division and as luck would have it, that's what weight he drew before the meet.
"That's the best coaching move I made," Ray joked.
There was no luck involved on the mat. Senior Dustyn Azure opened the match with a solid 9-4 victory over the Raiders' Waylon Alsbury. Although it wasn't of his more dominating performances, Azure scored three takedowns in the match that solidified the win.
Coming into the match, Ray believed that wins at the 157 and 174-pound weight divisions would be critical. And both of his wrestlers at the respective weights rose to his challenge.
Bobby Mantle (157) avenged a pair of losses earlier to SOU's Ryan Presta. Mantle picked up three takedowns including a pretty double leg to put an exclamation point on a 8-4 victory.
"Bobby really had some nice takedowns," Ray said. "I was really impressed with the way he wrestled tonight."
At 174, Kyle Fisher showed glimpses of the type of wrestling that propelled him to a runner-up finish at last year's NAIA national tournament. Fisher picked up a tough 5-3 win over Chris Huntley. Fisher did his damage in the second period taking advantage of an over aggressive Huntley and scoring a two-point takedown and a two-point near fall.
Huntley, who is ranked first at 165 but moved up for the dual, tried frantically in the third period to score a takedown, but couldn't. Fisher, giving up about five inches in height, had some difficulty mounting an attack against his rangy opponent.
"He was really long, lanky and had a lot leverage," Fisher said. "I kind of capitalized on that one shot of his. It's really tough wrestling guys like that."
The win was especially sweet for Fisher after what he felt was definitely some sub-par performances earlier in the season.
"I had to prove myself to coach," Fisher said. "The first semester, I wrestled all right but I feel like I can wrestle better this semester."
While Fisher feels he can wrestle better this semester, it would be hard for Mike Lester (184) and Emmett Willson (197) get much better.
Lester dominated Southern Oregon's Abe Ewing - pinning him with 10 seconds remaining in the first period. Ewing shot in at Lester a bit overaggressively and Lester used his strength to just overpower Ewing to the mat.
"That what's I like," Lester said. "I like guys trying to get the best of me and I just capitalized off their mistakes."
After sitting out much of the early season with a injured shoulder, Lester is starting to get to midseason form.
"He's looking better all the time," Ray said. "He's not worried about winning, he's worried about how bad he is going to beat his opponent. He's really strong and explosive. If he wouldn't have pinned that guy there, he would have done later in the match."
Said Lester of his shoulder: "I feel a lot better. My feet are a lot quicker. They were a little slow at the beginning of the year. It's starting to come around. It's my last year, I've got to get things going."
Willson was his usual dominant self scoring a win by medical default over Gabe Thompson. Willson exploded to a 9-1 lead when Thompson injured his left ankle. Southern Oregon head coach Mike Ritchey taped up Thompson's ankle but stopped the match shortly after Willson scored another takedown.
"Emmett is just intimidating," Ray said. "The guy tried to get physical with him and Emmett had him on his back pretty quick."
After forfeiting the heavyweight match, Northern picked up a pair of wins at 125 and 133. Andy Thompson (125) scored a 10-4 decision over Marc Harris, but the lopsided score was a bit deceiving. Thompson was nowhere near as aggressive as he has been. He scored much of his points, countering Harris's shots.
"He looked tired," Ray said. "He didn't hardly shoot. He looked tired. It's from cutting too much weight before tonight's weigh in."
Schaeffer, who Ray said is also guilty of doing the same thing, picked up a decisive 9-5 win over sixth-ranked Nolan Harris.
"Thompson, Schaeffer, Azure and (Anthony) Haukenberry all do that," Ray said. "They try to lose too much weight at the end. They try and lose eight pounds of water weight the day of the meet. That's detrimental when you have to weigh in an hour before the match."
Northern's only losses came from its two freshmen. SOU's Brian Wilson, ranked sixth at 165, defeated Aaron Jensen, 9-2. Haukenberry was defeated, 9-3, by second-ranked Colin Murphy. Ray realizes that both were tough losses, but wasn't pleased with the way his freshmen wrestled.
"They're tougher than that and they know it," he said.
Still, Ray won't deny that it's a good win for his team. The consistency he is looking for is starting to come around. He and his wrestlers both know that the NAIA national tournament will be there sooner than they realize.
"We're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel which is the national tournament," Fisher said. "Everybody starting to get really focused and wrestling well."
Said Lester: "You can tell in the wrestling room that the nationals are coming. Our attitude is a lot better. All of the guys are giving a 100 percent in practice. We started off a little slow, but we have only like eight weeks left and guys are getting ready to go. We're looking towards that national tournament because we want to win it. We want to beat Lindenwood."
Northern will travel to Dickinson, ND this weekend for the Dickinson State Invitational tournament.