By Ryan Divish
Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray wouldn't admit, at least on the record anyway, but he wanted to win all 10 of the matches of Thursday night's dual with the University of Great Falls.
It's his nature. Ray doesn't just want to win, he wants to dominate. And for the most part, his Lights squad responded with a sound 39-6 beating of upstart UGF.
However, even with such a dominant win, Ray can still find faults and mistakes, and he found a few with two of his better wrestlers.
Of the nine actual matches, Northern scored major victories in only four matches and had to sweat out a pair of matches he figured would be major wins.
No.1-ranked Stryder Davis was pushed fairly hard by freshman Ryan Smith of Arlee in their match at 157 pounds. Davis scrapped out a 13-7 win, but Ray wasn't particularly enthused by the result.
"Stryder had some weight mismanagement this week," Ray said. "It definitely affected his performance. It was a bit of an eye-opener for him. But I am pretty sure he won't let that happen again."
At 165 pounds, Northern junior Aaron Jensen was pushed to the limit and beyond, securing a hardfought 12-11 win over freshman Mike Kummer.
The remainder of the match wasn't quite as dramatic.
Zach Morgan gave the Lights an initial win with an 11-7 decision over Curtis Clowdus.
At 133, Brian Luna recorded the fastest pin of the season for Northern, sticking Spencer Griffiths just 37 seconds into the match.
Chris Smith followed that up with a decisive pin over John Borey at 141. Davis and Jensen followed with their wins by decision.
At 174, Ryan Mattingly had a solid showing, avenging an earlier loss to Robert Hazenberg with a 7-1 win.
Northern had planned to go with Jesse Juarez at 184, but a back injury sidelined him at the last moment. Sophomore David Waters filled in admirably, scoring a 10-4 win over Dan Gordon.
With Chase Gormley picking up a win at heavyweight, the Lights appeared well on their way to achieving Ray's goal of winning all 10 with only one match remaining. However, former Chinook standout Eric Hinebauch caught Northern's Brian Fritchman in a bad situation, pinning him with 41 seconds remaining in the match.
"Our goal was to win all 10 and we came up a match short," Ray said.
Realistically, the dual against UGF was solid preparation for the Lights, who next travel to Cleveland for Sunday's Cliff Keen NWCA national wrestling duals.
"There won't be any free matches at the national duals," Ray said. "We are going to have to go in there ready to battle."
Indeed Northern, ranked No. 2 in this week's poll, will open with No. 7 Cumberland College at 9 a.m., follow that up with a dual against third-ranked Missouri Valley at 11 a.m. and then top the day off with a dual against No. 1 Lindenwood at 3 p.m.
"Cumberland has some outstanding individuals," Ray said. "Missouri Valley has all every one its wrestlers ranked except at 133. And Lindenwood is ranked on top for a reason. They have the most depth and most talent of any team out there."
Still, Ray isn't about to concede anything to his opponents. He knows his team can do more than compete there.
"We hope to go 3-0," he said. "But we have some tough matches at different weights."
Win or lose, Ray's biggest reason for competing in this tourney is getting the opportunity to see teams like Cumberland, Missouri Valley or Lindenwood before the NAIA national tournament.
"That's why we go to these duals," he said. "It give us a chance to see some of the teams and individuals that we'll see at nationals. We get to see them earlier and make any adjustments we need for nationals."
While these matches have national tournament implications, they won't be a determinant for the national champion.
"This isn't going to determine who wins nationals," he said. "Duals are very different from the tournament setting. What it gives us is a chance to see our direct competition at different weights. It's also three tough matches in a day for our kids, and we need that right now. It's still only January and tough matches are only going to make us better."
125 - Northern freshman Zach Morgan will see the top two wrestlers in the No. 1 Andrew Bradbury of Lindenwood and No. 2 Delrico Choates of Cumberland. Missouri Valley's Nate Engle is ranked seventh.
133 - Senior transfer Brian Luna is ranked No. 1 in the division. He will face No. 3 Brad Cooper of Cumberland, and No. 2 Louis Edmonds of Lindenwood.
141 - Chris Smith will stay up a weight and take on No. 3 Josh Pulsifer of Missouri Valley and No. 8 Leo Martinez of Lindenwood.
149 - Dustyn Azure will have his biggest matches since returning to action this semester. He will square off with No. 2 Mike Rio of Lindenwood and either No. 4 Tyson Biddle or No. 6 Shane Cristelli of Missouri Valley.
157 - Top-ranked Stryder Davis will be looking to bounce back after a somewhat flat performance in Great Falls. He will go against No. 2 Donaco Watts of Missouri Valley and either No. 3 Jake Diefenbach or No. 5 Mark Dickman of Lindenwood.
165 - Seventh-ranked Aaron Jensen will take on two ranked opponents in No. 1 Jory Dick of Missouri Valley and No. 3 Rocky Vercher of Lindenwood.
174 - Ryan Mattingly will also face tough tests in second-ranked Todd Allen of Cumberland, fourth-ranked Kiel Giese of Missouri Valley and eighth-ranked Keith Cupp of Cumberland.
184 - Depending on his health, Jesse Juarez or David Waters will see No. 3 Matt Juncal of Cumberland, No. 5 Ryan Luna of Lindenwood and No. 7 Mario Thomas of Missouri Valley.
197 - Brian Fritchman will face three-ranked opponents in No. 1 Eric Finchum of Cumberland, No. 2 Robert Roskiewicz of Lindenwood and No. 6 Shane Hall of Missouri Valley.
HWT - Fifth-ranked Chase Gormley could see either No. 2 Gilbert Jones or No. 8 Chris Johnson of Missouri Valley or No. 3 Roger Miller of Lindenwood.