By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports /email@example.com
There was one thing that was abundantly clear to Montana State University-Northern head wrestling coach David Ray at the end of Thursday night's Maroon and Gold scrimmage at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse: His team has a tremendous amount of depth.
Despite suffering a couple of key losses to graduation last season, including national wrestler of the year Emmett Willson and national champion Kyle Fischer, it appears that Ray has reloaded his team with some very talented young wrestlers to go along with a solid group of returning national champions.
On Thursday night, Ray evenly split up his team into two squads for the dual, with the Maroon team edging the Gold team 21-20 at the end of the night. The close score indicated to Ray that his roster is very deep, and he was more than pleased with what he saw from both sides.
"I was pretty happy with the way just about everyone wrestled tonight," Ray said. "We had some good matches out there.
"I think that even though it is very early in the season, we have a really good group of young guys on this team," he added. "But we also have some veterans that have been here for a while, so right now things look pretty good."
The night got under way with one of the Lights' newcomers taking center stage at 125 pounds. Freshman Zach Morgan electrified the crowd by recovering from a 4-1 first-period deficit to earn a 13-4 major decision over sophomore Jason Harrington. Morgan's comeback was sparked by a 6-point flurry in the second period and he never looked back.
At 133 pounds, senior transfer Brian Luna showed off his wrestling skills by easily dismantling freshman Michael McPeak. Luna worked his way to a 16-1 technical fall that ended early in the third period.
The performances of both Morgan and Luna grabbed the attention of their head coach after the dual.
"Zach Morgan really showed me a lot for a such a young wrestler," Ray said. "He got behind early against Harrington, but he never quit wrestling and he ended up really dominating the match.
"Brian Luna also looked really sharp for not wrestling for quite a while," Ray added. "He is a really tough competitor."
Following Luna's win, senior Dan Shaw gave the Gold squad another three points by defeating Wyoming freshman Steven Boger 7-5. However, the next two matches belonged to the Maroon squad, as a pair of defending national champions took to the mat.
Junior Anthony Haukenberry earned a hard-fought 4-1 decision over senior Dustin Azure at 149 pounds, and senior Stryder Davis followed that up with a fast pin of freshman Frank Jachetta.
"Haukenberry had to work for his win against Dustin Azure, but he got it going late in the match," Ray said. "Dustin looked very good for a guy who hasn't wrestled in almost two years, so I was really happy with the way he performed."
After the two wins by Haukenberry and Davis, the Gold team got back on track. Junior Aaron Jensen and freshman Dale Seley provided some high drama at 165 pounds. The two wrestlers traded takedowns throughout the first two periods. Then, with Seley leading 6-5 late in the third period, Jensen was able to earn a takedown and an escape to take a 8-5 lead and hold on for the win.
Jensen's win was also one that caught the attention of his head coach.
"Aaron showed me a lot tonight," Ray said. "He never quit on himself and he beat a very good wrestler. It was a really nice win for him."
Following Jensen's late heroics, junior Ryan Mattingly knocked off freshman Emory Willson 7-3. Then senior Jesse Juarez and junior Mazi Burke showed why the Lights should once again be the team to beat in NAIA wrestling this season.
Juarez put on a technical clinic against sophomore David Waters, earning him a 16-0 technical fall victory. Burke then made short work of promising freshman Brian Fritchman by pinning him at the 2:57 mark of the match. Burke was also leading in points at that point by a score of 10-2.
"I thought all of our veteran guys looked pretty good tonight," Ray said. "Jesse and Mazi both looked like they are already in really good shape and they wrestled very well."
Burke's win gave the Gold squad a 20-18 lead heading into the final match of the night. But junior heavyweight Chase Gormley was too much for freshman John Robinson as he earned a 7-2 decision and a 21-20 win for the Maroon squad.
While the dual doesn't count toward regular season standings or individual rankings, Ray insists that he got what he needed out of the night.
"I saw a lot of good things from all of the guys who wrestled tonight," Ray said. "I think there are plenty of things we need to work on and get better at and we will do that. But I was happy with the way the dual went."
Next up for the Lights is a trip to Cody, Wyo., next weekend. MSU-Northern will dual Sitanka-Huron University and Western Wyoming College on Nov. 5, and the following day will participate in the Northwest College Open in Powell, Wyo.