By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team wasn't on a field trip when it went to Cleveland on Sunday for the Cliff Keen NWCA NAIA duals, but it was certainly educational.
The No. 2-ranked Lights finished 1-2 in three duals against nationally-ranked opponents and saw first hand the competition they will face in March at the NAIA national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
"We knew these duals wouldn't be easy," said head coach David Ray. "The only dual I was really comfortable with was with Cumberland. The other two I knew would be tough. On paper in the worst case scenario, I thought we might win just two matches in the other two duals."
To make matters worse, Northern was without the services of 184-pounder Jesse Juarez, who missed the trip with a bad back.
Ray's suspicion was correct, Northern knocked off seventh-ranked Cumberland College of Kentucky 25-15 to open the day.
Northern fell behind early as third-ranked Delrico Choates of Cumberland scored a major decision over freshman Zach Morgan.
But the Cumberland lead was short-lived as top-ranked Brian Luna answered with a major decision over Brad Cooper at 133 and Chris Smith defeated David Bertsch at 141 to give the Lights a 7-4 lead.
Cumberland tied the match at 7-7 as Ernest Spreitzer scored a controversial 8-7 win over Northern's Dustyn Azure at 149.
The Lights took the lead for good as top-ranked Stryder Davis pinned Thomas Hutchinson at 157, Aaron Jensen picked up a 12-5 win over Earl Waller at 165 and Ryan Mattingly defeated Robert Jablonski 3-0 at 174 to push the Lights' lead to 19-7.
Cumberland answered with a pair of wins to cut the lead to 19-15, but Northern heavyweight Chase Gormley added some distance with a pin of Rennick Richardson.
"Cumberland has a solid team," Ray said. "We got some major decisions and wrestled pretty well."
Northern had little time to celebrate the win because it had to face No. 3 Missouri Valley College just about two hours later.
Ray's suspicions were correct again as Northern found itself in a dogfight and came up short, losing 19-18 to MVC.
The Vikings jumped out to an early 6-0 lead as Nate Engel pinned Morgan early in the first period.
Northern answered as Luna stuck Tarl Vickers and Dustyn Azure followed it up with a tough 4-3 win over Shane Cristelli. Stryder Davis continued the run with a 6-1 win over Darion Terry.
At 165, Jensen came up just short in his bid to knock off second-ranked Donaco Watts, falling 5-3.
"Jensen wrestled him tough and he had some opportunities to win that match," Ray said. "Even though he lost, I really think he can beat him if sees him again."
Northern still maintained a 15-9 lead and added to it as Ryan Mattingly decision Kammi Barzin 6-1 to go up 18-9. But that's where the Lights' wins would stop.
Mario Thomas defeated David Waters 4-2 at 184 and Shane Hall picked up a 14-5 major decision over Brian Fritchman at 197.
MVC secured the win at heavyweight as second-ranked Gilbert Jones won an overtime marathon over Gormley. The match ended in a 6-6 tie after 11 minutes of wrestling and Jones won on criteria points.
"We had our chances to win the dual," Ray said. "Fritchman gives up a major at 197 and Chase basically wrestled almost two matches and got beat by riding time. When you lose by one point, you can look at a lot of matches and finds ways to win."
Other places included at 157, Davis' opponent basically stalled out the match to avoid a major decision.
Things didn't get any easier for the Lights with their final dual against top-ranked Lindenwood College of Missouri.
The Lions used a pair of pins and two major decisions to pick up a 26-16 win.
Lindenwood took an early 6-0 lead as top-ranked Andrew Bradbury pinned Morgan late in the third period.
Luna tied the dual with a pin over Louis Edmonds at 133.
"Luna was behind in the match 8-3 going into the third period on a controversial call," Ray said. "He got a reversal, turned the guy over, got a near fall and pinned the guy. He showed some guts in that match."
Smith won his third match of the day, scoring a 5-3 decision over Leo Martinez.
"Chris was solid," Ray said. "He went 1-2 a year ago at these duals, this year he was 3-0 and he was wrestling up a weight. I really think his maturity is showing."
At 149, second-ranked Mike Rio notched a 21-10 major decision over Azure to tie the dual at 9-9.
Northern appeared to take control of the dual as Davis scored a 10-1 major decision over third-ranked Jake Dreffenbach and Jensen decisioned fifth-ranked Mark Dickman 5-2. But those were the last matches the Lights would win.
Seventh-ranked James Bunch pinned Mattingly at 174, sixth-ranked Ryan Luna decision Waters at 184, Jimmy Bracerra scored a 15-6 major decision over Fritchman and Roger Miller edged Gormley 5-2.
"Lindenwood is very solid at every weight," Ray said. "But they were the only team that wasn't missing wrestlers from their lineup."
The Lions finished a perfect 3-0 to win the duals. Northern, Missouri Valley and Cumberland all finished 1-2. The Lights were awarded second place because they finished with the most wins of the three with 15 wins.
Luna, Smith and Davis finished the day 3-0, while Jensen and Mattingly were 2-0. Azure and Gormley were 1-2 and Morgan, Waters and Fritchman were 0-3.
"Overall, I'm not disappointed with our performance," Ray said. "We knew it would be tough. These teams are ranked for a reason. But we got to see some of our competition for nationals which is important and what we wanted."
And his impression of that competition?
"It's going to be a very balanced national tournament," he said. "It's going to come down to depth and Missouri Valley and Lindenwood have more depth. But we saw the things and weights where we need to improve. We're going to rely on some high placings."
Northern will be back at home on Thursday when it hosts North Idaho College.
MSU-Northern 25, Cumberland College 15
125 - Delrico Choates, CC major dec. Zach Morgan, MSU-N 11-3
133 - Brian Luna, MSU-N major dec. Brad Cooper, CC 10-2
141 - Chris Smith, MSU-N dec. David Bertsch, CC 9-7
149 - Ernest Spreitzer, CC dec. Dustyn Azure, MSU-N 8-7
157 - Stryder Davis, MSU-N pinned Thomas Hutchinson, CC 3:42
165 - Aaron Jensen, MSU-N dec. Earl Waller, CC 12-5
174 - Ryan Mattingly, MSU-N dec. Robert Jablonski, CC 3-0
184 - Matt Juncal, CC dec. David Waters, MSU-N 6-3
197 - Eric Flinchum, CC major dec. Brian Fritchman, MSU-N 14-0
HWT - Chase Gormley, MSU-N pinned Rennick Richardson, CC 6:44
Missouri Valley 19, MSU-Northern 18
125 - Nate Engel, MVC pinned Zach Morgan, MSU-N 1:24
133 - Brian Luna, MSU-N pinned Tarl Vickers, MVC 4:05
141 - Chris Smith, MSU-N dec. Josh Pulsifer, MVC 7-6
149 - Dustyn Azure, MSU-N dec. Shane Cristelli, MVC 4-3
157 - Stryder Davis, MSU-N dec. Darion Terry, MVC 6-1
165 - Donaco Watts, MVC dec. Aaron Jensen, MSU-N 5-3
174 - Ryan Mattingly, MSU-N dec. Kammi Barzin, MVC 6-1
184 - Mario Thomas, MVC dec. David Waters, MSU-N 4-2
197 - Shane Hall, MVC major dec. Brian Fritchman, MSU-N 14-5
HWT - Gilbert Jones, MVC dec. Chase Gormley, MSU-N 6-6 (OT) criteria
Lindenwood 26, MSU-Northern 16
125 - Andrew Bradbury, LU pinned Zach Morgan, MSU-N 6:29
133 - Brian Luna, MSU-N pinned Louis Edmonds, LU 6:22
141 - Chris Smith, MSU-N dec. Leo Martinez, LU 5-3
149 - Mike Rio, LU major dec. Dustyn Azure, MSU-N 21-10
157 - Stryder Davis, MSU-N major dec. Jake Dreffenbach, LU 10-1
165 - Aaron Jensen, MSU-N dec. Mark Dickman, LU 5-2
174 - James Bunch, LU pinned Ryan Mattingly, MSU-N 1:06
184 - Ryan Luna, LU dec. David Waters, MSU-N 7-3
197 - Jimmy Bracerra, LU major dec. Brian Fritchman, MSU-N 15-6
HWT - Roger Miller, LU dec. Chase Gormley, MSU-N 5-2