By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It's been close to 10 years since a pair of Montana colleges squared off a wrestling match in dual action.
Tonight, that depressing streak will come to an end as the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team will travel to Great Falls to take on the upstart University of Great Falls Argos at 8 p.m. at the McLaughlin Center on the UGF campus.
It was in the 1995-96 season that Northern split with the now defunct UM-Western wrestling team. Since then, the Lights have persevered and prevailed as Montana's only collegiate wrestling program.
That changed last year when UGF added a wrestling program to compete this season. Now with an in-state competitor and natural rival, Lights head coach David Ray and his squad want to greet UGF with a sound thrashing.
"We don't want to be the big bully on the block," Ray said. "But we want to set the tone for this rivalry and show them what it's like to compete against us. We want to go in there and take care of business in Northern fashion."
And what is exactly Northern fashion?
Roughly, it would be the same aggressive, in-your-face, compete-till-you-drop style that has made the Lights an NAIA powerhouse.
What's more interesting, it's the same philosophy that first-year UGF head coach Eric Van Kley has.
"We've preached all year and continued this week is to be offensive and wrestling and hustling for seven hard minutes," he said. "The attitude we preach in our room is to constantly attack for seven minutes and that doesn't change whether it's Northern or lesser opponents"
Van Kley doesn't hesitate to look to the Lights program as a measuring stick his program or a blueprint for its success.
"We've said from the beginning that Northern being as successful as they've been is the best thing in the world for us," he said. "Because you have that measuring stick in your back yard. Year in and year out, they are competing for a national championship and that's the type of success we are shooting for. To have that rival so close is just great for us"
It may seem great for the future, but the youthful Argos will be severely undermatched against a veteran and talented Lights squad.
Northern will suit up seven upperclassmen, including seven that are ranked nationally. In comparison, UGF will suit up eight freshmen and its only ranked wrestler - heavyweight Luke Roberts - is out with an injury.
Roberts, who is ranked sixth, has probably been the Argos' best and most consistent wrestler this season. But a nagging injury has finally had to be addressed with some rest.
"It's been bothering him for awhile," Van Kley said. "We just finally had to sit him down so he would be healthy later in the year He should be able to go when we come up there."
Unfortunately, that erases a highly anticipated match between Roberts and Northern's Chase Gormley, who is ranked fifth in the same division. The two wrestlers have met twice this season, with each picking up a win.
Besides Roberts, UGF has gotten good production from freshman Spencer Griffiths at 133 pounds, freshman Ryan Smith at 157 and freshman Robert Hazenberg at 174 pounds.
Griffiths was a state champ and three-time finals contestant during his standout career at Simms. He is currently 22-5 on the season.
Smith was a state champ a year ago at 160 pounds for Arlee. He started off the season at 165, but has since moved down a weight and is 18-8 on the season.
Hazenberg was a standout wrestler in Kennewick, Wash., and has a 20-11 record on the season.
"All three of them have wrestled pretty consistently this season," Van Kley said. "But it will be tough because Northern is pretty tough at those weights."
Indeed, the Lights aren't just tough at 133 and 157, they are almost unbeatable
At 133, senior transfer Brian Luna is a perfect 18-0 on the season and already owns two wins over Griffiths, including a pin at the DSU Open Classic.
At 157, Stryder Davis is also ranked No. 1 in NAIA with a 23-1 record and 11 wins by fall. Davis' only loss came at the prestigious Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational to Michigan's Ryan Bertin.
The match at 174 should be a little closer. Northern's Ryan Mattingly is 9-4 on the season with one of the wins being a 6-4 decision over Hazenberg at the Northwest College Invitational.
"I expect Mattingly to bounce back after the last few matches," Ray said. "He wasn't quite as sharp."
While Ray and the Lights aren't exactly overlooking UGF, they also have to keep the NWCA Cliff Keen National Duals on Sunday in Cleveland in the front of their mind.
"Great Falls is pretty young and inexperienced," he said. "If we go in there focused and wrestle like we should, we'll be fine. What we want is to go in there and perform well and use it as preparation for the national duals."
For Van Kley, winning isn't at the forefront, just getting on the mat with the Lights is accomplishment.
"We're excited about the opportunity," Van Kley said. "We knew that there would be a natural interstate rivalry with Northern being the only two colleges in Montana that have wrestling. It's a great opportunity for the two schools and for Montana wrestling as a whole."
A capacity crowd is expected for the historic dual and Ray wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think it's going to be a great crowd," Ray said. "Great Falls is a great wrestling town and they've really supported us through the years. I am sure they'll be cheering for them, but they will also be cheering for us."
Said Van Kley: "It should be a packed house. There are a lot of Montana kids wrestling. I think people want to watch kids wrestle from the area. It should be a great draw.
"We've looked at this as a win-win situation. This is something we've had circled on our calendar all year long and we're looking forward to it."
Tonight's dual will be broadcast locally on 92.5 KPQX-FM
NOTES: Former Chinook standout and 2004 state champ Eric Hinebauch will wrestle for the Argos tonight, but not necessarily at 184. Van Kley said that Hinebauch and Dan Gordon have flip-flopped between the 184 and 197-pound classes and the decision will be made at weigh-in. Former Lights national champion Caleb Schaeffer is an assistant for the Argos. People with computers can watch the dual on web cast at http://www.ugf.edu/goargos/.
WT MSU-Northern vs. University of Great Falls
125 - Zach Morgan, FR (6-10) vs. Curtis Clowdus, FR (2-7)
133 - Brian Luna, SR (18-0) vs. Spencer Griffiths, FR (22-5)
141 - Chris Smith, JR (17-3) vs. John Borey, FR (5-15)
149 - Dustyn Azure, SR (5-0) vs. Justin Harjo, FR (6-15)
157 - Stryder Davis, SR (23-1) vs. Ryan Smith, FR (18-8)
165 - Aaron Jensen, JR (17-5) vs. Mike Kummer, FR (21-9)
174 - Ryan Mattingly, JR (9-4) vs. Robert Hazenburg, FR (20-11)
184 - Jesse Jaurez, SR (8-2) vs. Eric Hinebauch, FR (2-4)
197 - Brian Frithcman, FR (9-6)vs. Dan Gordon, SO (1-6)
HWT - Chase Gormley, JR (14-1) vs. Open