By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Just because you won a national championship doesn't mean you spend the offseason patting yourself on the back.
Instead, Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray has been adding some more talent to an already talented program, signing five wrestlers to NAIA national letters of intent to compete in the 2004-05 season.
The only Montana wrestler in the latest group is Corey Willis of Laurel. Willis, who was coached by former Northern standout Nate Laslovich, captured the Class A state title at 189 pounds, defeating Sidney's Gary Melby for the title.
What made Willis' win even more impressive was that he'd wrestled just once in the 10 days before the state meet because of surgery on his right meniscus.
Willis, who is projected to compete at 184 in college, finished second at 171 in his junior year, losing to Livingston's Jake Jesson in the finals.
"Corey beat the oddsmakers," Ray said. "He placed second as a junior at the state tournament, which many people felt was a fluke and luck. This year Corey won the state title at 189 pounds and proved that it wasn't luck. Corey competes with a lot of attitude and heart. He will achieve great things at Northern if he works hard and keeps the faith in himself."
Ray added another state champion in Steve Boger of Gillette, Wyo., who captured the 140-pound title in Wyoming this past season. Boger finished the season with a 39-2 record.
Besides his state title, Boger also captured prestigious titles at invitational tournaments in Billings and Miles City. In his junior season, he placed second at the Wyoming state meet.
"Steven is a true competitor. The bigger the name, the better he performs," Ray said. "He has good technique but a great attitude about competition, a very confident wrestler, quick on his feet and his best wrestling is riding. Steven is a pinner and is always looking for the fall."
Besides being good on the mat, Boger is good in the classroom, carrying a 3.5 grade-point average and is interested in majoring in biology.
Another big signing for Ray is Albert Starett of Colfax, Wash., who placed second the past two years at the Washington state tournament. Starett's combined record for those two season was 64-5. He placed fifth in the state as a freshman.
"Albert will take the risk and tries for the fall anytime and anywhere during the match," Ray said. "He is an exciting wrestler to watch. He only had 10 other teammates on his team, and with all the workout partners he will have at Northern, Albert will improve tremendously."
Joining the group is Matt Kilmartin of Caledonia, Mich., who is projected to compete at 141 pounds.
Kilmartin is a three-time state placer in Michigan, including a second-place finish this past season. He finished the year with a 52-3 record, and his high school record was a stellar 168-20. Kilmartin's wrestling style will be very familiar to many Northern fans.
"Watching Matt wrestle with some college wrestlers on his recruiting trip opened my eyes," Ray said. "I realized he was a spitting image of national runner-up freshman Chris Smith. It is only fitting. Chris and Matt grew up 20 miles from each other in Michigan and both trained together in the same club as kids and in high school."
But Ray isn't chalking up Kilmartin's signing to a coincidence.
"Northern is lucky to find quality recruits like Matt," he said. "Having Chris Smith on the Northern team makes this a greater possibility.
"With over 9 million people, Michigan produces many quality athletes. Technically, Matt is very sound. Physically, he is very strong. We will have to work on his mental preparation and stamina to make him a great college wrestler."
Ray's final signing is J.R. Carter of North Java, N.Y. Carter, whom Ray projects will compete at heavyweight, finished fourth at the New York High School State Championships, but may be a bit of project for the future.
"At 6-3 and 230 pounds, J.R. has a lot of potential," Ray said. "He tries very hard and has the right attitude about competition. There are many areas where J.R. will improve, but what really will make the difference for him will be his workout partners and assistant coaches Emmett Willson and Kyle Fisher and present Northern heavyweight Chase Gormley.
"J.R. will need a full year to make the transition from high school to collegiate wrestling, and when he makes the transition, he could be one of Northern's best heavyweights."