By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Logic says if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
Up to this point, the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team has done that and a little more. During the last three weeks, it seems like head coach David Ray calls the looming opponent the toughest his team has faced all season.
Once again, Ray deemed this weekend's adversary the strongest his team will have faced this season. Few people would argue with him. Northern will host the 21st ranked NCAA Division I team in the country. The Boise State Broncs will make the long drive to Havre for a dual Saturday night at the Havre High gymnasium.
It's not unusual for an NAIA team to dual a D-I team. In fact, it happens quite often. What is unusual, is a D-I team going on the road to wrestle an NAIA school in its home town. It just doesn't happen for many reasons.
The first is that NCAA teams, especially ranked teams, have plenty of teams willing to travel to wrestle them on their home mat. Second, it's a dicey proposition going on the road to unfriendly territory to wrestle a good team like Northern. Call it a no-win situation. If the D-I school wins, it's not a big deal because it's supposed to win. But if that team would happen to lose to an NAIA school, there would be serious repercussions.
"This just doesn't happy very often," Ray said. "Division I teams don't like to put themselves in this position. But Boise agreed to do this and it's very exciting. I know I am looking forward to it."
One of the reasons Ray is looking forward to the dual is because of the possibility of picking up a win. To the average fan, an NAIA school, even the No. 1 NAIA school, meeting up with a the No. 21 NCAA school, it would seem like a mismatch. Last year Boise easily defeated Northern in Boise.
Ah, but there are few average wrestling fans around Havre, and like Ray, people know that the Broncos will have their hands full with this year's Lights squad.
That's because Ray believes his team may be a little bit better than last season.
"In a lot of ways, we have a better team than last year," Ray said. "We're better all-around as a team. We have a little more depth at certain weights and more balance than last year."
This year's team certainly has the record to prove Ray right. The Lights are 13-0 in dual matches this season, having defeated the No. 1 team in NJCAA and the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 teams in NAIA while winning tournaments featuring the No. 1 team in NCAA Division III and the No. 3 team in Division II.
"It would be quite an accomplishment to go undefeated in duals and beat a Division I school," Ray said. "I don't think it's out of the question, but it starts tonight."
Despite the top-25 ranking, Boise State is a team in somewhat of a rebuilding mode. The Broncos lost seven seniors from last year's squad and are 4-3 in dual matches with their last win coming over conference foe Portland State, 37-9.
"These guys are strong and physical wrestlers, who know how to keep matches close," Ray said. "They're very sound and know if they keep the match close in case their opponent makes a mistake."
While BSU's dual record is far from gaudy and neither are its individual wrestler's records. Ray said not to read too much into those type of statistics.
"All of their competition is Division I, so their records are a little misleading," Ray said. "These guys can wrestle, and they have that mentality that most Division I wrestlers have, which is that they believe they are good because they wrestle at that level."
It's a mentality that the Lights are beginning to adopted after beating such tough competition early on in the season.
"We have been gaining confidence with each week," Ray said. "We're starting to see that we can wrestle at any level as long as we believe we deserve to be out there."
Lost in all of the hype surrounding the Northern-Boise dual is a University of Calgary team that will dual both schools. Calgary will bring eight wrestlers and wrestle each team in a takedown format before the main dual.
"The dual against Calgary I look at as a good warmup for the Boise dual," Ray said. "They have some solid kids, and it allows us to get out on the mat and get warm and get some of the nerves out of the way."
Boise will open the duals at 6:30 against Calgary with Northern to dual Calgary right after. Those duals will run concurrently with the Havre High-Conrad dual.
At 8:30 p.m. one mat will be moved to the center of the gym for the Northern-Boise dual.
Here's a look at the Northern-Boise individual matchups:
125 - Northern freshman Jason Harrington will meet up with redshirt freshman Clint Wolfley. Wolfley is 4-13 on the season and 0-7 in duals. "I definitely think it should be a match we can compete in," Ray said. "Harrington needs to be mentally prepared to battle and fight."
133 - Senior Caleb Schaeffer will hook up with sophomore Scott Jorgenson. Schaeffer is ranked No. 1 in NAIA and has been wrestling very well as of late. "Caleb beat him twice last season," Ray said. "He just needs to go out there and wrestle smart and not put himself in bad situations."
141 - Redshirt freshman Chris Smith will meet up with Boise senior Jesse Brock in a very tough match. Brock is ranked second in the PAC-10 with a 19-6 overall record. However, Smith has wrestled against top level competition all season, but is coming off a very flat weekend at the national duals. "Chris has to be on the top of his game," Ray said. "He can't come out flat and expect to win."
149 - Sophomore Anthony Haukenberry will face Montana native Nick Budeski, who wrestled at CMR. Budeski, a sophomore, is 4-14 on the season but will have plenty of friends and family cheering him on. Haukenberry has wrestled very well as of late, and only slipped up once when he had to cut too much weight before a dual. "We have a great chance there," Ray said. "I have been monitoring everyone's weight closely this week to make sure we aren't cutting too much before the dual."
157 - Transfer Stryder Davis will face a solid opponent in sophomore Ben Cherrington. "Cherrington is one tough hombre," Ray said. "He's a strong leg rider and probably one of the best they have. Stryder beat him last year and he will have to wrestle another good match to do it again." Cherrington is ranked fourth in the Pac-10 with a 18-6 overall record.
165 - True freshman Ryan Hall is being thrown into the fire against junior Russell Brunson, who sports a 16-10 overall record. Hall is a recent addition to the Lights varsity squad, having defeated Aaron Jensen in wrestleoffs two weeks ago. He is coming off a strong showing at the NAIA national duals, and Ray is interested to see how he reacts to the step up in competition. "I really have no idea about this match," Ray said. "Hall still doesn't have much mat time. But I do know he isn't the type of person to be intimidated by an opponent."
174 - Transfer Jesse Juarez will square off against BSU sophomore Jonathan Carlisle, who has a 14-5 overall record, including a first-place finish at the Cowboy Open. Juarez also competed at the Cowboy, but at a weight class higher. After dropping down a weight, Juarez has been been dominant and Ray expects him to stay that way. "Jesse is wrestling real tough," Ray said. "He needs to keep up that intensity."
184 - Senior Kyle Fisher will meet up with sophomore Casey Phelps, who is 5-8 on the season. Phelps won the Cowboy open at 184, but Fisher never wrestled him. "There's no doubt Kyle can get on this kid," Ray said. "He just has to keep the pressure on and be aggressive."
197 - Senior Emmett Willson will meet up with K.C. Walsh for a second time this season. Ray called Walsh Boise's best wrestler and said this will be the best match of the night. Willson defeated Walsh 5-0 to win the Cowboy Open. And until somebody proves different, the undefeated Willson is the best 197-pounder in the country, regardless of division.
HWT - Transfer Mazi Burke will face senior Jacob McGinnis, who is 13-8 on the season. Burke and Willson have flip-flopped duties at heavyweight this season, but despite giving up some size, Ray is confident in Burke. "Mazi has been wrestling at a very high level lately," Ray said. "He has a great chance of winning."