All that stands between the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team and the postseason is one last dual.
But it’s a big one.
Tonight in Great Falls, the No. 8 Lights will do battle with arch-rival and sixth-ranked UGF at 7 at the McLaughlin Center in Great Falls. And the Lights are expecting the battle of their lives, considering a short-handed Northern team forged a 24-24 tie with UGF back in November in Havre.
But since that tie, the Lights have kept on improving and that means UGF knows its in for another battle tonight, despite the dual being on the Argos home mat.
The Lights are short-handed no longer as 125-pounder Chase Dirden is expected to return to the lineup for MSU-N. Dirden has missed most of the season with injury, but should be back to help the Lights tonight.
"I feel great about this dual mainly due to the excitement a rivalry brings to the table," Northern head coach Tyson Thivierge said. " Preparation has gone extremely well this week and the guys are focused and ready."
However, injuries still play a key role in the dual, as former Havre Blue Pony Myles Mazurkiewicz is still out at 141 pounds. Mazurkiewicz suffered an undisclosed injury two weeks ago, and has been out ever since, although UGF head coach Caleb Schaeffer said Mazurkiewicz will be back in time for regionals.
Despite who’s wrestling and who isn’t, tonight’s match should be intriguing.
The Lights and Argos combine to bring 11 nationally-ranked grapplers into tonight’s dual with of course, the feature match being UGF’s Michael French against MSU-N’s Evan Hinebauch. The duo have been ranked at the top of the 184-pound class for the last two years, and this season, French has defeated Hinebauch by 3-2 scores three times.
But that’s not the only exciting bout on the mat tonight. At 133 pounds, Cam Neiss (#12) will take on Luis Carranza of (#7) UGF in the only other match featuring two ranked wrestlers. Still, matchups should be good across the board. At 141, Anthony Varnell is ranked 10th for the Argos, while the Lights have Anthony Weerheim ranked second at 149. Northern is also stout at 174 pounds with Max Payne ranked sixth in the country, while Kody Reed is ranked 12th at 197 and Rudy Schaffroth is sixth at heavyweight. The Argos also have Mike Hader ranked 10th at 157 and Ross Mosher ranked second at 165.
Rounding out the Lights' lineup tonight will be Brandon Leliefeld at 141, Tay Todd at 157 and Jared Miller at 165.
"We have key guys back in the line-up and we are looking at changing the result from our first outing with UGF," Thivierge said. "We just want to keep our heads on straight and focus on wrestling 7 minutes solid."
Tonight’s dual between the Lights and Argos will start at 7 in Great Falls. It marks the end of the regular season with both teams heading to the Western Regional next weekend in Prescott, Ariz.