By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It wasn't a recipe for disaster, but it did have the ingredients for at least a possible loss. Instead, it may have been a turning point in the season for the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team.
Northern knocked off a pair of higher ranked squads in Dana College and Embry-Riddle College in dual action.
It's not often that the Lights come into any type of NAIA dual match, an underdog, but last Thursday, Northern came in undermanned and fresh off a home dual loss to Dickinson State University.
Still, little of that mattered, as Northern pulled off a pair of minor upsets with a two tough wins.
The Lights opened the dual matches in Prescott, Ariz. with a 25-16 win over third-ranked Dana College.
Northern's Chris Smith got things going at 133 pounds with a 5-1 win over third-ranked Brian Tsutsumi to tie the dual at three. Dana rallied as Terrance Almond pinned Dan Shaw to go up 9-3. However, Anthony Haukenberry answered for Northern with a pin of Brian Scrambler to tie the score at 9-9
Stryder Davis continued the run at 157, with a 11-2 major decision over Ben Henderson. Northern took control of the dual a match later at 165 as Dale Seley picked up a huge 5-3 win over second-ranked Leister Bowling. Seley's win pushed Northern's lead to 17-9.
"That was a big win for Dale," Ray said. "He really wrestled smart and tough."
Dana won the next two matches, to pull within 17-15, but Mazi Burke secured the dual with a dominating win at 197 pounds. Burke pinned Blair Alderman at the 2:02 mark of the match. Brian Fritchman added a little distance to the score with a solid 9-7 win over Chris Egan at heavyweight.
"Mazi looked solid in the duals," Ray said. "He came out aggressive and got after his opponent. He needs to do that more consistently.
"Fritchman had a nice match at heavyweight. They moved their 184-pounder into that spot, and he was ranked seventh in the country. Fritchman was looking at going to 184 next semester. That will definitely give him some confidence."
The Lights rode the momentum of the win over Dana to a 23-21 win over No. 5 Embry-Riddle College later in the day.
"I was more worried about the Dana dual," Ray said. "The score was closer against Embry-Riddle, but we had it taken care of by the time we got to 197."
Once again, Smith got Northern going at 133, after Zach Morgan was decisioned at 125. Smith defeated Ryan Vidaurrri 12-10. Dan Shaw followed that up with a hardfought 13-12 decision over Gordo Villascuela at 141 to put Northern ahead 6-3.
ERU pulled even at 6-6 when second-ranked Tyler Moran upset top-ranked Haukenberry, 4-1 in a very close match.
"That guy is pretty tough," Ray said of Moran. "But there was a close call early on where it looked like Haukenberry got a takedown. The ref didn't give it to him, and he gave up a takedown instead. That's all it took. In a match like that, whoever gets the first takedown is going to most likely win the match."
Northern retook the lead as Davis picked up another pin at 157, sticking Tyler Price at the 5:52. Seley continued his solid wrestling at 165 with a 19-4 major decision over Matt Howard to push the lead to 16-6.
After tough losses from Aaron Jensen and David Waters at 174 and 184 respectively, Northern secured the win as Burke picked up his second pin of the day at 197.
"To be honest, I really didn't know if we'd win both of these duals," Ray said. "I was a little surprised. These are big wins for us. It gives our wrestlers more confidence. Maybe the loss against Dickinson State was the best thing for us. It opened our eyes a little. Our guys came out and got after them right away, which we didn't do against Dickinson.
The Lights' weekend wasn't done as they ventured to Las Vegas for the prestigious Cliff Keen Invitational Tournament. With only five wrestlers competing, Northern finished a respectable 25th, but it was the individual effort of Davis that dominated the weekend.
The senior from Scio, Ore. advanced to the finals of the tournament before being finally defeated 9-0 by Michigan's Ryan Bertin, a former NCAA national champion.
"Stryder's goal was to place in this tournament and he exceeded it by wrestling very tough," Ray said. "He was a little upset with the way he wrestled in the finals. I think he gave his opponent a little too much respect, but he shouldn't be disappointed with what he accomplished."
Davis opened the tournament with an upset of second-seeded Jim Medeiros of Fresno State in dominating fashion with an 8-2 win. He followed that up with a 6-3 win over Matt Hill of Edinboro University.
In the quarterfinals, Davis wrestled smart in a 3-0 win over Keegan Mueller of Ohio State. In the semifinals, Davis picked up a tough 3-2 win over B.J. Wright to move to the finals against Bertin.
"Stryder looked a little intimidated knowing Bertin had won a Division I national title," Ray said. "But I feel like he will compete better the next time he wrestles Bertin, if they meet at the Midlands Championship."
Still, Ray knows that Davis' appearance in the finals is a big accomplishment.
"With Emmett winning 197 last year, that makes it two straight years we've had a wrestler in the finals," Ray said. "That gives so much exposure to NAIA wrestling and particularly Northern's wrestling program."
Also competing for Northern in the tourney were Morgan (0-2), Shaw (1-2), Burke (1-2) and Seley (2-2).
The Lights will be back in action at home on Thursday when they host NJCAA national power Northwest College at 7 p.m. in the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
MSU-Northern 25, Dana College 16
125 - Dante Lewis, DC major dec. Zach Morgan, MSU-N 18-5; 133 - Chris Smith, MSU-N dec. Brian Tsutsumi, DC 5-1; 141 - Terrance Almond, DC pinned Dan Shaw, MSU-N 3:30; 149 - Anthony Haukenberry, MSU-N pinned Brian Scambler, DC 2:40; 157 - Stryder Davis, MSU-N major dec. Ben Henderson 11-2; 165 - Dale Seley, MSU-N dec. Leister Bowling, DC 5-3; 174 - Marshall Marquardt, DC dec. Aaron Jensen, MSU-N 8-4; 184 - Webster Farris, DC dec. David Waters, MSU-N 2-1; 197 - Mazi Burke, MSU-N pinned Blair Alderman, DC 2:02; HWT - Brian Fritchman, MSU-N dec. Chris Egan, DC 9-7.
MSU-Northern 23, Embry Riddle 21
125 - Jared Tavasci, ERU pinned Zach Morgan, MSU-N 1:03; 133 - Chris Smith, MSU-N dec. Ryan Vidaurri, ERU 12-10; 141 - Dan Shaw, MSU-N dec. Gordo Villescuela, ERU 13-12; 149 - Tyler Moran, ERU dec. Anthony Haukenberry, MSU-N 4-1; 157 - Stryder Davis, MSU-N pinned Tyler Price, ERU 5:52; 165 - Dale Seley, MSU-N major dec. Matt Howard, ERU 19-4; 174 - David Rivera, ERU dec. Aaron Jensen, MSU-N 12-8; 184 - Jeffrey Lander, ERU dec. David Waters, MSU-N 9-7; Mazi Burke, MSU-N pinned Jamie Hernandez, ERU 4:17; HWT - Rob Charlton, ERU pinned Brian Fritchman :31.