by Ryan Divish
The NAIA Northern Regional Wrestling tournament might as well rename itself the MSU-Northern Regional wrestling tournament.
The Lights have absolutely dominated the event in recent years, winning the last seven tournaments in a row and 11 of the last 12.
"We're looking to make it eight," said Lights head coach David Ray with a touch of a laugh.
Not that Ray looks at any competition as a joking matter. However, the Lights domination has reached almost comical proportions.
Last year as the host, Northern racked up 139 points with second-place University of Mary only earning 67 points.
This year, Northern figures to be the champion again, but may get a push from Dickinson State and Jamestown.
"Both Dickinson and Jamestown have some solid individuals," Ray said. "But if we wrestle like we're capable, we should win the team title."
While the team title and trophy are always nice, there are more important things to be accomplished at the tournament, namely winning individual titles.
The Lights want to rack up as many titles and second-place finishes as possible. It's not for personal glory, but rather seeding for the NAIA National Tournament.
"The seeding is so important," Ray said. "Doing well at regionals is the difference between someone tough in the first round at nationals or not seeing someone tough until the semifinals."
With Northern's talent, a slew of individual titles isn't out of the question. The Lights will take 12 wrestlers,who will make up their national tournament team. All are capable of winning and should place in the top three.
Most important of all, Ray expects a national tournament type of effort from his wrestlers.
"I want us to go in there and battle and wrestle like we would at the national tournament," he said. "It's all about them and their performance. They have to believe in themselves and start raising their level of intensity even more. There isn't any more season left for them to not wrestle good."
Here's a look at Northern's lineup:
125 - Freshman Mike McPeak (21-14) has looked impressive since dropping down from 133. He offers Northern a solid candidate at 125 and is capable of reaching the finals.
133 - Senior Brian Luna is pretty much a sure thing to win the title. With a sparkling 25-1 record, Luna's only competition would have come from teammate Chris Smith, who is out with a knee injury.
141 - Senior Dan Shaw (17-9) is another title contender. He will face some solid competition along the way. Ray said the key for Shaw is to be aggressive and take more shots than he has in the past.
149 - Senior Dustyn Azure (10-4) looks to be finishing up his career with a purpose. Azure will most likely meet up with DSU's Keri Stanley in the finals. Ray likes his chances, saying: "Dustyn is more aggressive than Stanley and should give him some problems."
157 - Senior Stryder Davis (31-1) should have little trouble reaching the finals where Ray hope he meets teammate Dale Seley (19-7). Seley has been stuck behind Davis all season, but if he can overcome a nasty flu bug, Seley should be meeting his teammate in the finals.
165 - Junior Aaron Jensen (23-6) will be among the favorites at 165. He has beaten every top wrestler in the region and should win a title if he can continue his aggressive wrestling. Freshman Emory Willson will also go at the weight after dropping down. Ray believes if Willson gets an early win, he can be dangerous.
174 - Junior Ryan Mattingly (13-6) will face some tough competition from DSU and Mary. However, Ray expects Mattingly to be competitive in every match.
184 - Senior Jesse Juarez is more than capable of winning the title; it's just a matter of him believing it. Juarez will likely face Elijah Simburger of Mary in the finals.
197 - The weight is open with Brian Fritchman out with an injury.
HWT - Junior Chase Gormley (19-4) will face tough matches at heavyweight from Jamestown and Great Falls. Gormley has been wrestling very well as of late and Ray expects him in the finals.