The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team has already wrestled in some big matches and big duals this young season.
But make no mistake, the Lights will step up in class tonight.
Tonight at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse, the No. 7 Lights take on the top team in the country, the Southern Oregon Red Raiders in an NAIA dual at 7. The Red Raiders earned the preseason No. 1 ranking this year after a strong finish last season and because of a great returning lineup.
But as good as the Raiders are, the Lights have the guns to challenge them tonight, and win or lose, Northern head coach Tyson Thivierge said this dual is one that will test his wrestlers greatly.
"I believe this is going to be a true test to see where we are within the NAIA and where we stand competitively against the top programs in the country," Thivierge said. " We need to overcome some obstacles and wrestle a very smart dual."
SOU brings six nationally-ranked wrestlers into tonight's showdown with the Lights. The Red Raiders will also be battle tested having faced the Great Falls Argos on Thursday night in Great Falls.
SOU's big weapon is NAIA No. 1 125-pounder Mitchell Lofstedt, a junior who has already been dominant on the national level. Lofstedt will be a big test for Northern freshman Riley Miller tonight.
Perhaps the biggest match of the night will take place at 149 pounds between Northern senior Anthony Weerheim and SOU's Kyle Wikurty. The duo have had good battle before, and Wikurty comes into tonight's match ranked No. 3 while Weerheim is No. 4 in the NAIA at 149. The match will not only be a crucial one in the dual, but also for national and regional rankings and seeding for the national tournament.
The Raiders have another good one at 157 pounds in Jimmy Eggemeyer, a perennial national qualifier and NAIA All-American. Eggemeyer will take on Northern freshman Mickey Cheff, who's off to a good start this season.
The 165-pound match and the 184-pound match will be big ones as well. Former Havre Blue Pony Ethan Hinebauch has been a force so far this season but he runs into fifth-ranked Derek Mestrovich tonight. At 184, 11th-ranked Kody Reed of MSU-N will have to contend with fourth-ranked Austin Vanderford. Both those matches could also have long-term implications.
SOU also has the sixth-ranked heavyweight in the nation in Bubba Owens. He'll battle MSU-N freshman Nick King.
Northern will be open at 133 pounds, will send out Hunter Azure at 141 and either fourth-ranked Max Payne or ninth-ranked Jared Miller at 174. Top-ranked Evan Hinebauch will rounds out the lineup at 187 pounds.
And while Thivierge knows just how good the Red Raiders are, he also likes that the Lights get them on their mat this season and he's hoping a big crowd will be a factor.
"The atmosphere up here is going to be to our advantage and it will feed our guys throughout the dual.," he said. "Southern Oregon is always a top-notch program and we need to use home court advantage to get our guys going. We have wrestled well up to this point, but this is our toughest dual meet of the year so far. Everyone in our lineup is ready and excited about stepping on the mat Friday night."
Tonight's dual between Northern and Southern Oregon is slated to begin at 7 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. The Lights will be back on their home mat on Dec. 2 when they host a triangular.
No. 1 S. Oregon at
No. 7 MSU-Northern
Tonight's Probable Matches
125 — Riley Miller, MSU-N vs No. 1 Mitchell Lofstedt, SOU.
133 — MSU-N is Open
141 — Hunter Azure, MSU-N vs Brad Tamashiro, SOU.
149 — No. 4 Anthony Weerheim, MSU-N vs No. 3 Kyle Wikurty, SOU.
157 — Mickey Cheff, MSU-N vs No. 5 Jimmy Eggemeyer, SOU.
165 — Ethan Hinebauch, MSU-N vs No. 4 Derek Mestrovich, SOU.
174 — No. 4 Max Payne or No. 9 Jared Miller, MSU-N vs Tucker Van Matre, SOU.
184 — No. 11 Kody Reed, MSU-N vs No. 4 Austin Vanderford, SOU.
197 — No. 1 Evan Hinebauch, MSU-N vs Ethan Hinton, SOU.
HWT — Nick King, MSU-N vs No. 6 Bubba Owens, SOU.