By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
There shouldn't be any questions left to ask about Emmett Willson's place in collegiate wrestling this year. Because the Montana State University-Northern senior has answered them all.
Willson's latest achievement came late Monday night when he defeated Northern Iowa's Shawn Stender 7-3 in the 197-pound match at the NWCA All-Star Classic dual matches at the UNI Dome on the University of Northern Iowa's campus.
Willson fought through a bit of a chest cold and an agonizingly long dual to pick up the win over Stender, who is ranked sixth in NCAA Division I.
"I didn't wrestle very well," Willson said Tuesday in Havre. "My lungs were hurting in the first period and I had a pretty long wait before I wrestled. It was a combination of things that kind of made me not feel great."
Said Northern head coach David Ray: "Emmett didn't look great, but he did what he had to do. It was a really long night. He weighed in at 7 p.m. and his match didn't start until 10:15 p.m. That's tough on a wrestler to have that long break and they didn't have mats on the side to get loose again."
Basically, Willson did what it took to win in a relatively low-scoring match.
In front of a partisan crowd cheering for home favorite Stender, Willson picked up an early takedown to grab a 2-0 lead after the first period.
He added an escape in the second period to take a 3-0 lead in the third period. Willson was firmly in control, riding Stender's legs to accumulate a riding time advantage.
Stender finally scored late in the third period, getting an escape. He then was able to score a takedown on Willson to knot the score at 3-3. It stayed tied for all of about six seconds as Willson quickly escaped and scored another takedown just before the match ended to go up 6-3. Willson's riding time advantage gave him an added point at the end of the match.
"Emmett escaped the takedown immediately," Ray said. "Besides that little spurt at the end, he controlled the whole match."
Willson said that Stender's style of wrestling played a factor in the pace of the match.
"Our styles just clashed too much," Willson said. "I wanted to tie up on one side and he wanted to tie up on the other. So we really never got close enough to each other to have some offensive attacks."
With UNI already picking up two wins in the duals, the large crowd was primed for a third, but Willson quieted it with his performance.
"They had those two wins early and (Stender) had some momentum going into the match," Ray said. "Emmett shot that down pretty quickly."
Not a bad accomplishment for being the "asterisk guy," Willson joked.
Being the "asterisk guy" was a little joke between Willson and Ray, which came from the dual's wrestling program. In Willson's bio in the program, there was an asterisk next to his No. 1-ranked status because he was wrestling in the NAIA.
"Coach called me the asterisk guy," Willson said. "It didn't really bother me. It just shows that you can be a good wrestler no matter if you're at a big or small school. It just matters how hard you work to get the job done."
Indeed, Willson is just the second non-NCAA Division I athlete to compete in the All-Star Classic since 1989.
"It felt to good to go out there and represent the NAIA, the school and Montana," Willson said. "It was a neat experience."
Said Ray: "It was great exposure for him, great for Northern and fabulous for the NAIA. It gives us even more credibility."
Ray, Willson and the rest of the Lights will hit the road for a Thursday dual against the University of Mary in Bismarck. Northern will also be hosting the Northern Regional wrestling tournament on Feb. 14.