The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team started its season back in October. And while it’s flown by, the fact is, the Lights have just two more competitions left in 2012.
The first step towards a national championship run comes Saturday when the Lights travel to Ashland, Ore., for the Western Regional. The region is perhaps the most loaded of any in the NAIA as the meet will features third-ranked Southern Oregon, fourth-ranked UGF, eighth-ranked Northern and 20th-ranked Embry-Riddle. Menlo College lies just outside the NAIA Top 20 to round out the field, where only four wrestles from each weight class will qualify for the NAIA national tournament.
However, as tough as the Western Regional will be, the Lights, like many teams have already solidified their national tournament team. Northern is taking 12 wrestlers to the regional, but 11 have already qualified for the NAIA national tournament March 1-3 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Still, seeding for the national tournament as well as gaining momentum will the priority for the Lights, who will have to battle it out with some of the best competition in the NAIA this weekend.
Wrestling for Northern this Saturday will be Riley Miller at 125 pounds, Cameron Neiss at 133, Anthony Weerheim at 141, James Petersen and Beau LaSalle at 149, Mickey Cheff at 157, Ethan Hinebauch at 165, Jared Miller and Max Payne at 174, Evan Hinebauch and Kody Reed at 184 and Nick King at heavyweight. Only King is not pre-qualified for the national tournament, so he’ll have to finish in the top four this Saturday in order to make the trip to nationals.
But as excited as the Lights are about the team their taking to the national tourney, they want to do well at the regional, which is especially important to the likes of Weerheim and Evan and Ethan Hinebauch, all of whom are vying for top seeds in Des Moines.
At 141, Weerheim is on perhaps the most loaded bracket in all of NAIA wrestling. UGF’s Anthony Varnell is ranked No. 1 while Weerheim is third. SOU”s Kyle Wikurty is ranked sixth in the NAIA, former Havre Blue Pony Myles Mazurkiewicz is ranked ninth and Embry-Riddle’s Josh Chang is ranked 12th. So if everyone competes Saturday, the 141-pound bracket should be more than exciting.
Among other top contenders this weekend is top-ranked Mitchell Lofstedt of SOU at 125 pounds, while Ethan Hinebauch is heading for a showdown with SOU’s Derek Mestrovich, who’s ranked third in the NAIA at 165. Hinebauch is currently ranked fourth. Miller and Payne should lead the 174-pound bracket, while Evan Hinebauch will look to win his third regional title at 184. UGF’s Kameron Jackson (197) and Sears Tiernan (HWT) are the top-ranked wrestlers in their brackets, with Jackson ranked No. 3 in the NAIA at 197 and Tiernan ranked No. 2 at heavyweight.
The 2012 Western Region will run all day Saturday on the campus of Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore. The Lights will then have a week off to get ready for the 2012 NAIA National Tournament in Des Moines.