By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
It wasn't the best December for Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray, and January isn't starting off so great either.
Ray and the Lights were supposed to be in dual action tonight in Dickinson, N.D. as a sort of a warm-up for Saturday's Dickinson Open Wrestling Classic. However, none of the teams attending the tournament wanted to dual the defending NAIA champs as of Thursday, leaving the Lights as spectators tonight.
"I am trying to get at least one dual for Friday," Ray said Wednesday "But nobody wants to dual us. I hope we can find someone who will because I'd like to get at least one match on Friday."
Things won't be much better for Ray on Saturday. For the first time in three years, NCAA Division III powerhouse Augsburg College won't be competing in the tourney.
"It's very disappointing that Augsburg won't be there," Ray said. "They made this tournament very tough and one of the reasons why I was excited to come here. We needed that push from them."
Indeed, Augsburg is ranked No.1 in Division III and won the DSU tourney two of three years it competed, with Northern finishing second. However last year, the Lights beat Augsburg in the team competition.
"Maybe that's why they aren't coming is because we beat them last year," Ray joked.
But it isn't just the team competition that Ray wanted. He also wanted his wrestlers to face the strong individual opposition that Augsburg would bring to the tourney
"We needed the matches where we have to gut it out and fight and fight," Ray said. "Those are the kind of matches that will make us better."
Still, Ray isn't knocking the competition that will be at the DSU tourney. The host Bluehawks, Jamestown College, Chadron State, University of Great Falls, Minnesota-Moorhead, Concordia College and Northwest College will also be there along with a few other schools.
"I'm not trying to take anything away from the wrestlers that will be there," he said. "This tournament won't be a pushover. There are going to be some very solid individuals there competing, but Augsburg just made each weight class a little deeper and tougher."
With their tourney rival missing, Ray is expecting a team title, but also a high level of intensity from each wrestler in each match.
"All I care about is going in there and seeing our guys compete," Ray said. "I'm not worried about technique or skills. I just want to see heart and guts in every situation. I want to see us dig and fight to score."
Ray is looking forward to dealing with issues on the mat, after having to deal with a few off it.
Just before the Christmas break, Ray dismissed defending NAIA national champion Anthony Haukenberry from the team. Ray didn't cite a specific event that caused the removal of Haukenberry, saying it was the culmination of events.
"It came down to the fact that being a part of this team and this program weren't as important to him," Ray said. "We have certain rules and expectations and he wasn't interested in meeting them."
Haukenberry will be replaced by 2002 All-American Dustyn Azure, who is finally back after two years off the mat because of injury.
"Dustyn has looked very tough lately," Ray said. "He has really raised his intensity in practice since Haukenberry has been gone."
Northern also apparently lost another varsity wrestler over the break as senior and NAIA national tourney qualifier Mazi Burke hasn't reported back for practice.
"We reported back for practice on December 31st and he hasn't been to a practice yet and I haven't heard from him," Ray said "From a program standpoint, he's already quit."
Burke had been wrestling at both 197 and heavyweight. He will be replaced by Brian Fritchman at 197, while mammoth Chase Gormley will make his varsity debut this weekend at heavyweight.
While the losses obviously irked Ray, he was consoled with the return of a pair of wrestlers for the second semester.
Transfer Brian Luna, who only had one semester of eligibility remaining, will suit up officially this weekend, while Jesse Juarez will return at 184 pounds after being ineligible for the first semester.
"Even though we lost two wrestlers, we added some," he said. "I think we'll be stronger as a team."
The NAIA raters seem to agree as Northern moved up to No. 2 in the nation despite the losses
"We moved up in the rankings which is good," Ray said. "But we still have to go out there and back it up. This is the first tournament that we'll wrestle in that keeps team points besides Las Vegas, that should be plenty of motivation for us to go out and compete and win."