By Ryan Divish
It's not often Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray can look a person in the face and say he's not worried about winning - without that person asking if he's joking.
But those were the exact words that came out of Ray's mouth when describing his dual today with Northwest College in Powell, Wyo.
"I'm not worried about winning the dual," Ray said. "I'm worried about individual performances."
With roughly three weeks until the NAIA national tournament, Ray is more concerned about each of his wrestlers progressing and getting better up until tournament time.
Still, not worried about winning?
Perhaps, Ray's worries are minimal because his team easily handled Northwest, 33-12, in dual action in Havre on Dec. 12.
In that dual, Northwestern's only points came in a pair of forfeits at 125 and heavyweight. This time around, Northern will have a full squad competing for the first time since Jan. 18.
Despite the lopsided score in the last dual, Ray still believes there will be some tough matches out there for his team, and will be watching several matches very closely, in particular 125, 141, 149 and 174.
At 125, Andy Thompson is coming off a solid win at North Idaho College, but he will face a pretty tough opponent in Kendall Horracks.
"Horracks is tough," Ray said. "He really gets after people. I'll be watching to see if Thompson can score in other ways other than his usual move. He needs to attack the legs a little more."
Ray's interest in the match at 141 won't necessarily be on the actual wrestling but the overall performance of Anthony Haukenberry, who has been affected lately by having to cut too much weight before matches.
"Haukenberry has done a much better job with his weight control this week," Ray said. "Last week, he came in at 17 over. This week he came in just nine pounds over. He is able to at least eat this week while he's cutting weight and that should make a big difference."
Haukenberry defeated Eric Sabot, 6-5, in the dual, but it was tightly contested match the entire way. It should be the same way again.
At 149, Lance Nelson will face a solid opponent in Luke Salazar. Dustyn Azure, who is out with a dislocated elbow, defeated Salazar in Havre. Ray believes Nelson can do the same if he attacks on his feet while showing good defense in the match.
"Salazar is tough," Ray said. "Azure beat him 7-2 in the last dual, but he outscrambled him. The guy is very strong and it should be a good match for Lance."
Ray will also be watching Kyle Fisher at 174 to see if the former Havre standout can pick up the tempo a little against Joe Woods.
"Kyle has beaten their guy twice this season," Ray said. "But he still has to pick things up a little. He needs to pick up the pace and score some points."
The remaining matches should all be Northern wins, but Ray wants more than just wins, he wants dominant performances. A perfect example would be at 133 where Caleb Schaeffer has already defeated Juston Bradley three times this season. Ray is looking for a pin from Schaeffer, Northern's all-time pin leader.
"Caleb can't seem to pin him," Ray said. "He'll beat him, but he won't pin him. We've been giving him a hard time about it. I told him that they know and we know that he can't pin him. We've been trying to motivate him."
The looming national tournament should be plenty of motivation for the Northern wrestlers in the remaining weeks. Winning this dual may not be the first priority to Ray, but he certainly won't accept a loss. The focus should be on wrestling well while picking up the win at the same time.
"This is a good dual to keep us sharp," Ray said. " We need to keep getting us ready mentally and physically for the next few weeks."