By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The superlatives sound more like boxing than wrestling - words like undefeated, undisputed and unchallenged.
But right now the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team is all of those things and a little more.
The No. 1-ranked Lights are more than just some contender. They are looking like a budding champion, following a five-day span that saw them knock off the top team in the NJCAA and the No. 2-, No. 3-, No. 4-ranked teams in the NAIA in dual matches.
If there were any doubts to Northern's status as the top team in the NAIA, they were erased after this weekend.
"Since the Dana Open (Jan. 3), we have wrestled against the No. 1 team in NCAA Division III (Augsburg College), the No. 3 team in NCAA Division II (Nebraska-Omaha), the No. 1 junior college team (Northwest College) and the No. 2 (Missouri Valley), No. 3 (Lindenwood) and No. 4 (Menlo) teams in NAIA," said head coach David Ray. "We have seen very good competition and been pretty successful against it."
Pretty successful would be a bit of an understatement, almost like saying that Ray is pretty intense.
Northern opened its recent spate of success with a 30-14 win over Northwest College in Powell, Wyo. Although the team easily handled Northwest in an earlier dual in Havre on Dec. 13., Ray was concerned with the dual heading into it.
"When we figured out our schedule for this year," Ray said, "we didn't know how good of a team Northwest would have. Coach (Jim) Ziegler really thought that he had a team this year that would beat us, or at least split all the matches."
However, much like the earlier dual, the Lights dominated the Trappers, winning seven matches and forcing Northwest to wait till next year for another chance to defeat them.
Ray was the first to admit that the dual didn't start out auspiciously. Northern dropped three of its first four matches, with only Caleb Schaeffer at 133 getting a win. Jason Harrington dropped his varsity debut at 125 pounds while Chris Smith was pinned late in the match by top-ranked Eric Sabot at 141 and Anthony Haukenberry surrendered a 4-0 loss at 149.
"Harrington has to be a little more mentally prepared to wrestle," Ray said. "Chris' match was 0-0 until the third period. He just made a mistake after his opponent made a nice controlled takedown. It was the type of move where if you don't respond and get out right away you'll get stuck. Haukenberry's performance was from undisciplined weight cutting. He was 10 pounds over the day before the match. You can't do that and it took its toll. You could see he was exhausted during warmups."
It would be the last match that Northern would lose in the dual. With their team down 14-3, Stryder Davis pinned Cort Peterson at 157, Ryan Hall won his first varsity dual match at 165 and Jesse Juarez pinned Trevor Moss at 174 as Northern roared ahead 18-14.
"Stryder is really wrestling strong and Ryan Hall really beat his opponent much worse than the score showed," Ray said. "He's very physical and strong he just needs some conditioning. Jesse, he just tore his opponent up from the start."
The Lights continued to build on the lead as Kyle Fisher scored an 18-2 technical fall over Trevor Moss at 184, Mazi Burke avenged an earlier loss to Robert Roskiewicz at 197 and Emmett Willson moved up a weight class and thoroughly dominated top-ranked heavyweight Tyler Rhodes.
"Kyle was dominant and Mazi has performed so much better since Christmas Break," Ray said. "Emmett dominated Rhodes. He mentally broke him and wore him out."
With duals against the top NAIA competition looming before the match, Ray was very pleased with his team's performance.
"It's a great win," Ray said. "I was pretty stressed about this dual because I didn't want us to have a letdown."
With the win over Northwest providing a nice momentum builder, the Lights flew into Cleveland for the 2004 Cliff Keen NWCA National Duals the team to beat. Following a dominant performance, Northern left Cleveland with plane full of confidence while still remaining the team to beat.
On Sunday, in an eight-hour period, Northern ended any speculation of who the top team in the NAIA is at the moment.
The Lights lost a total of eight matches - one being a forfeit - in three duals against their next closest team competition according the NAIA rankings.
Northern opened the duals with a 30-12 win over third-ranked Lindenwood College. The Lights won seven matches against Lindenwood and really only lost two matches. With a large lead going into the duals final matches, Ray decided to forfeit the heavyweight match and let Willson wrestle at his normal weight class.
Lindenwood's only two wins came at 125 and 165. Third-ranked Ricky Guzman defeated Harrington 8-3 and Cory Johnson edged Hall 5-2.
In the other matches, Northern was dominant as Haukenberry, Juarez and Willson scored pins over their opponents. Other key wins came at 133 pounds where Schaeffer cruised past third-ranked Louis Edmonds 8-3, at 157 pounds where Davis scored a big 4-0 win over third-ranked Nate Martinez and at 141 where Smith defeated fourth-ranked Leo Martinez, 6-4.
Willson's match was the most dominant and also the quickest of the dual. Facing two-time California junior college champion David Bonilla, Willson needed all of 30 seconds to score a pin.
"He shot in got a double leg, turned him over and pinned him," Ray said. "It was that fast. I probably should have let him wrestle at heavyweight and we could have won 33-6, but we were already up so much."
Two hours later, Northern returned to the mat to defeat third-ranked Menlo College in similar fashion.
The Lights rolled to a 34-10 win, losing three matches and scoring major victories in four matches.
"The guys felt pretty good after defeating Lindenwood pretty handily," Ray said. "We went into the second dual with a lot of confidence."
After surrendering a loss at 125, Schaeffer got the Lights going with a 10-1 win. Smith lost a tough 8-7 decision to eighth-ranked Fernando Flanagan.
"Chris was kind of flat all weekend," Ray said. "It just seemed like his feet weren't as quick as usual. He would agree that that's a match he should win."
The most exciting match of the dual came at 149 as Haukenberry rallied from a 4-0 deficit to tie up the match at the end of regulation. He scored a takedown in overtime to pick up a big win over Danny Castillo.
"Haukenberry really did a nice job getting back into the match," Ray said. "You could tell that he was much stronger than in the Northwest dual."
The toughest loss of the dual came at 165 where Hall had a 3-2 lead with 18 seconds left in the match. However, sixth-ranked Eddie Lucatero got a quick jump on the referee whistle in the neutral position to score a late takedown.
With the win over Menlo, Northern's confidence was on overdrive. The Lights made quick work of second-ranked Missouri Valley College for the second time this season.
Northern scored a 28-7 win, losing only two matches in the dual. Unlike the past duals, the Lights able to score many major victories, but they still were very dominant.
Schaeffer scored a technical fall over L.C. Davis at 133 to get Northern going. Smith dropped a very tough match to second-ranked Tyson Biddle 6-4, but Haukenberry rallied the Lights with a huge 3-2 win over second-ranked Josh Pulsifer.
"That was a very big win for Hauk," Ray said. "Pulsifer has beat him twice this season already. It's a major step for him."
Hall avenged his previous loss to pick up a nice 6-5 win over Drew Dickerson, scoring a four-point reversal-near fall in the last 25 seconds of the match.
Kyle Fisher also picked up a key win over second-ranked Mario Thomas 3-2 in double overtime.
"Kyle did a good job, but neither did much shooting in the match," Ray said.
Willson received a scare at heavyweight as Gilbert Jones put him on his back late in the match to cut into his 7-1 lead. But he shook it off, escaped the hold and picked up a 10-6 win.
"Their whole team went nuts when he put Emmett on his back," Ray said. "It doesn't happen very often and Emmett wasn't very happy. He doesn't like being put in that situation one bit."
The Lights' performance definitely calms Rays nerves as this three-week stretch of top-level competition is slowly coming to a close. The solid results definitely had a calming effect.
"We did very well," Ray said. "I can't complain. We lost only seven matches in the dual and three people accounted for those losses. That means seven other wrestlers never lost a match."
But Ray isn't about to let his wrestlers starting patting themselves on their backs, no matter how well they wrestled.
"This should only motivate them to work harder because you know those other teams are motivated to work harder after getting beat," Ray said. "Our guys should know that teams are going after them and it should make them work even harder. That's part of being on top is that everyone wants to knock you off."
Northern will get a very good reality check on Saturday when it hosts NCAA Division I Boise State in a dual match at the Havre High School gymnasium. The Broncs are ranked 21st in Division I and will be more than a test for Northern.
"It's a reality check, definitely," Ray said. "Every week we say its the toughest competition we've faced yet. Well, this will be the toughest competition we've faced this season."
MSU-NORTHERN 30, NORTHWEST COLLEGE 14
125 - Seth Wright, NWC tech. fall Jason Harrington 20-3; 133 - Caleb Schaeffer, MSUN dec. Patrick Sharp, 9-7; 141 - Eric Sabot, NWC pinned Chris Smith 2:27; 149 - Luke Salazar, NWC dec. Anthony Haukenberry 4-0; 157 - Stryder Davis, MSUN pinned Cort Peterson 4:38; 165 - Ryan Hall, MSUN dec. Kade Caturia 7-4; 174 - Jesse Juarez, MSUN pinned Trevor Moss 4:16; 184 - Kyle Fisher, MSUN tech. fall Pete Julander 18-2; 197 - Mazi Burke, MSUN dec. Robert Roszkiewicz 7-3; HWT - Emmett Willson, MSUN dec. Tyler Rhodes 14-3.
MSU-NORTHERN 30, LINDENWOOD 12
125 - Ricky Guzman, LIN dec. Jason Harrington 8-2; 133 - Caleb Schaeffer, MSUN dec. Lewis Edmonds 8-3; 141 - Chris Smith, MSUN dec. Leo Martinez 6-4; 149 - Anthony Haukenberry, MSUN pinned Vito Barbagallo 1:09; 157 - Stryder Davis, MSUN dec. Nate Martinez 4-0; 165 - Cory Johnson, LIN dec. Ryan Hall 5-2; 174 - Jesse Juarez, MSUN pinned Greg Burke 2:42; 184 - Kyle Fisher, MSUN dec. James Bunch 4-1; 197 - Emmett Willson, MSUN pinned David Bonilla :30; HWT - Rodger Miller, LIN win by forfeit.
MSU-NORTHERN 34, MENLO COLLEGE 10
125 - Ricky Aguirre, MEN dec. Jason Harrington 16-8; 133 - Caleb Schaeffer, MSUN dec. Cleo Johnson 10-1; 141 - Fernando Flanagan, MEN dec. Chris Smith 8-7; 149 - Anthony Haukenberry, MSUN dec. Danny Castillo 6-4 OT; 157 - Stryder Davis, MSUN pinned Austin Torres; 165 - Eddie Lucatero, MEN dec. Ryan Hall 4-3; 174 - Jesse Juarez, MSUN dec. Marc Banks 10-1; 184 - Kyle Fisher, MSUN tech. fall Marcus Randolph 17-1; 197 - Mazi Burke, MSUN pinned Regnold Grayson 1:45; HWT - Emmett Willson, MSUN pinned Ken Pamanian 3:42.
MSU-NORTHERN 28, MISSOURI VALLEY 7
125 - Talon Vickers, MVC dec. Jason Harrington 10-2; 133 - Caleb Schaeffer, MSUN tech. fall L.C. Davis 16-0; 141 - Tyson Biddle, MVC dec. Chris Smith 6-4; 149 - Anthony Haukenberry, MSUN dec. Josh Pulsifer 3-2; 157 - Stryder Davis, MSUN dec. Darion Terry 2-0; 165 - Ryan Hall, MSUN dec. Drew Dickerson 6-5; 174 - Jesse Juarez, MSUN maj. dec. Jory Dick 14-0; 184 - Kyle Fisher dec. Mario Thomas 3-2 OT; 197 - Mazi Burke, MSUN dec. Shane Hall 10-2; HWT - Emmett Willson, MSUN dec. Gilbert Jones 10-6.