After four preseason duals and a month-long grind of preparation, the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team will finally do it for real tonight.
The Lights, who are ranked No. 12 in the NAIA preseason poll, will open their season tonight at 7 when they host the always-tough North Idaho Cardinals at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.
MSU-N will start the season without No. 2 ranked Evan Hinebauch a returning NAIA All-American at 184 pounds, as he recovers from an early-season injury.
But, with a talented group returning from redshirt and key newcomers, MSU-N head coach Tyson Thivierge, who begins his third year at helm, is excited about what his team is capable of this year.
"We're very excited about this season," Thivierge said. "We're excited about the roster we have and the potential this team has to have a very successful year."
Northern will trot out few returnees in tonight's dual, but the Lights should be able to compete well with the Cardinals, a perennial NJCAA powerhouse.
Harlem's Chase Dirden won the starting job at 125 pounds after he went to the NAIA national tournament last year at 133. But depending on who competes tonight, Dirden could be the only returnee in the MSU-N lineup against North Idaho.
True freshman Cameron Neiss, a Class A state champion won the starting spot at 133 pounds, while fellow freshman Demetrios Mitchell is the projected starter at 141. A pair of former NJCAA All-Americans should also make their MSU-N debut tonight. Anthony Weerheim will go at 149 pounds and start the year ranked at that weight. And at heavyweight, Rudy Shaffroth will get the call for the Lights and will start the season ranked fourth in the NAIA.
More newcomers dot the rest of the MSU-N lineup.
At 157 pounds, freshman Cody Miller captured the starting spot, while former Havre Blue Pony Ethan Hinebauch will man the 164-pound spot. Redshirt freshman Max Payne will start at 174 pounds for the Lights, and is another potential all-american candidate. Who will compete at 184 pounds tonight is up in the air, while Missoula's Kody Reed will be the starter at 197 pounds.
Northern will try to avenge last season's loss to the Cardinals, but more importantly, Thivierge is looking forward to his team starting strong.
"We've been building for this season," Thivierge said. "And the guys have worked really hard to be ready to have a big year. Our goal is to improve every time we step out on the mat."
Tonight's dual between the Lights and Cardinals is set to start at 7 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.