Montana State University-Northern wrestling head coach Tyson Thivierge has been optimistic about his team’s prospects going into each of his first two national tournaments.
But the former Lights’ star and NAIA national champion has 10 reasons why he’s so excited entering Thursday’s first day of the 2011 national tournament. Thursday through Saturday, the Lights will be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the 2011 NAIA National Tournament, and while Northern brings an No. 8 ranking into this weekend’s season finale, Thivierge believes his team has as good a chance as any to come away with hardware when the tournament is all said and done.
“I am very confident in the 10 guys wrestling for us this weekend,” Thivierge said. “The last two recruiting classes have really helped us build up to this weekend, and if we wrestle like we’re capable of, I think we not only have a handful of guys who can get to all-american, but we have a very good chance to do very well in the team race.”
Northern finished 15th a year ago at the national tournament, and the Lights are coming in with another young team, including six freshmen making their first trip to nationals. But youth can’t be mistaken for talent, and Northern has plenty of it. The Lights also have experienced, legitimate title contenders in Evan Hinebauch, Anthony Weerheim and Rudy Schaffroth, so scoring points on both ends of the tournament is very likely for the Lights, who have been a strong tournament team all season long.
“I think the main reason we’ve been such a good tournament team is, we really support each other,” Thivierge said. “This team has really bonded together well, there’s a lot of chemistry and they all wrestle for each other. This is an individual sport, but all year, we’ve stressed team title, team title, because that’s ultimately what we’re after. And it’s worked well for us.”
And it should serve Northern well this weekend. However, the Lights are certainly not a team many are picking to walk away with a national championship, something Northern hasn’t done since 2004. And with Notre Dame of Ohio loaded an gunning for its third straight NAIA title, the Lights will have their work cut out for them.
“Notre Dame will be tough to beat,” Thivierge said. “But I think people need to watch out for McKendree too, they have a real solid team. And even though they haven’t been at their best lately, UGF is a team that can’t be overlooked. They have a lot of weapons.”
UGF does have weapons, including former Havre High star Myles Mazurkiewicz, who was a runner-up in 2010 at 133 pounds. Mazurkiewicz has moved up to 141, a very tough bracket, but he’s still expected to do very well this weekend.
And while Thivierge sees plenty of teams which can score points this weekend, he also sees his own team, which includes first-timers, youngsters Cameron Neiss, Brandon Leliefeld, Cody Miller, Jared Miller, Max Payne and Kody Reed, as well as veteran captain Tay Todd, with a chance to score plenty of points this weekend.
“First we have to focus on the match we’re wrestling and nothing else,” Thivierge said. “That’s been something we’ve talked about the last two weeks. And the guys really need to be aware of that. Then, we need consolation points. You look at all the past national championship teams, including Northern’s, even the teams I was on, this tournament is really won through the back door. The consolation bracket is survival mode, and it’s a time when guys either step up to the challenge or fold. So you really have to have those guys that can step up and get those points in order to be successful.”
And successful the Lights are hoping to be. Northern’s program already feels it has turned a big corner from three and four years ago when the program hit hard times. But Thivierge also knows the national tournament is the proving ground in NAIA wrestling and he’s excited about the team he has taking the mat this weekend.
“We’ve talked all week about each guy just focusing on himself,” Thivierge said. “In wrestling, you worry about the individual matches and if you wrestle to your capabilities, the team title stuff takes care of itself. So our guys need to just go out and be loose and focused and wrestle their own match, and the rest will work out.
“We do feel like we’ve come a long way from the end of last year or even the beginning of the season,” he added. “And now, these guys are hungry to take the next step, to keep moving forward with this program. And they have a great chance to do that this weekend. So I’m really excited.”
The NAIA national tournament starts Thursday morning and runs through the finals on Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Fans can follow the Lights all weekend with daily updates at www.havredailynews.com.