Each year, the Montana State University-Northern Lights and Great Falls Argos kick off a the biggest week of wrestling in Montana with their annual rematch dual against each other.
And for a time, the Argos dominated the rivalry. But Northern, under fourth-year head coach Tyson Thivierge, and a young and hungry group of wrestlers has changed the story. On Wednesday night at UGF’s McLaughlin Center in Great Falls, the fourth-ranked Lights dominated the third-ranked Argos 33-16, in what was MSU-N’s third straight win in the series. The Lights also beat the Argos last February in Havre, and again won this past December in Havre.
However, as gratifying as Wednesday night’s win was, especially as UGF celebrated senior night, a night in which former Havre Blue Pony Myles Mazurkiewicz was honored as UGF’s all-time winningest wrestler, Thivierge chose to focus on what the dominant victory means for the future, not for the just the rivalry.
“It’s a great rivalry, and these are two great programs,” Thivierge said. “And I couldn’t be more pleased with how we wrestled tonight. But we came in here trying to focus on getting better. We wanted to look past the hype of the rivalry and we wanted to make sure we improved. We’re really excited about winning this dual, because we got better. This will make us better for regionals and nationals and that’s what’s most important to us.”
Northern may have overlooked the hype as Thivierge put it, but they certainly came to Great Falls fired up. And the Lights got even more fired up when Mickey Cheff upset second-ranked Ryan Leonard 4-2 in overtime. At the time, Great Falls held a 10-9 advantage, and the Argos also had a forfeit coming their way at heavyweight. But Cheff got to overtime by holding on to precious riding time, then took down Leonard with a spectacular shot just seconds into the extra period.
The win gave Northern the lead back, and for good too, as the Lights didn’t lose another match on the mat with Ethan Hinebauch (165) and Max Payne (174) earning back-to-back pins, Kody Reed working his way to a 7-2 win at 184 pounds and Toby Cheff finishing off the dual with a pin at 197. The Lights made the exact same run when they beat UGF 21-20 back in December at the Armory Gymnasium.
“We knew the 125-pound match, and Mickey’s (Cheff) match would be the pivotal ones,” Thivierge said. “And we were able to win both in overtime. But Mickey’s with the tide turner. That win gave our guys in the upper weights a little breathing room. It really put the wind in our sails.
“Mickey is very capable every time he steps out on the mat,” Thivierge said. “And he wrestled really well tonight. He really executed when the match was on the line, and it really fired up our guys.”
While the Lights romped to the lopsided win after Cheff’s dramatic victory, Northern also got a pair of key wins to start the dual. MSU-N gave up 12 points in forfeits, as the Lights are without a heavyweight right now, while Hunter Azure couldn’t go against Mazurkiewicz. But an overtime win by Aaron LaFarge at 125 pounds and a pin by Cameron Neiss at 133 gave the Lights and early led, and it set the tone for the rest of the night. With the two forfeits, the Lights only other loss came at 149 pounds.
“It was nerve-racking knowing we were giving up 12 points,” Thivierge said. “But we also knew we have the guys who can cause some damage. We have pinners and guys who really go after bonus points, and that worked in our favor tonight.
“There’s no doubt I’m proud of our guys,” he added. “We came down here and executed and as a whole, we wrestled really well. We hadn’t been on the mat in two weeks and our guys were hungry. Now we have to go back to work and make sure we improve on this result at regionals. We want to make sure we don’t take a step back.”
The Lights will return to Great Falls for the Western Regional, which is now a true national tournament qualifier on Feb. 16.
Lights 33, Great Falls 16
125-Aaron LaForge, N, dec. Luke Schlosser 4-2 in SVO; 133-Cameron Neiss, N, p Eric Bergerson 2:20; 141-Myles Mazurkiewicz, GF, by forfeit; 149-Mike Vassar, GF, md Trevor Goss 12-4; 157-Mickey Cheff, N, d. Ryan Leonard 4-2 in SVO; 165-Ethan Hinebauch, N, p Shawn Lau 5:14; 174-Max Payne, N, p Taylor Vaughn 3:39; 184-Kody Reed, N, d. Adam Wolf 7-2; 197-Toby Cheff, N, p Dylan Lemery 6:54; 285-Sears Tiernan, GF, by forfeit.