By Alan Sorensen
The Montana State University-Northern national champion wrestling team held its Maroon and Gold intrasquad match at C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls Wednesday night.
Russell is the alma mater of Northern all-American Turk Lords who is going after his fourth national championship this year. Lords would be one of only five wrestlers in the 44-year history of the NAIA National Wrestling Tournament to achieve the feat.
Northern boasts some of the top wrestlers in the country and had some great match ups among multiple state champions from throughout the West.
Head Coach David Ray said he expected the matches to be intense and exciting because it is an honor for any wrestler to make the starting line up of the three-time defending national champs.
"These young men compete as hard if not harder than any team I have ever been associated with," Ray said. "Most people avoid practicing with their teammates who compete at the same weight class. These guys do not. By practicing together, I feel they want to learn their opponents' weaknesses and to show they will not be intimidated."
Eight 7-minute matches were scheduled. Ray said that the team normally has 10 matches but that a couple of returnees were out with injuries. He ended up matching wrestlers from other weight classes and hoped that would make the evening more competitive and interesting for the spectators.
Last night's match was the first time that the Northern wrestlers had to make scratch weight.
"I feel this will be a good indication of how well my team is controlling their weight," Ray said before the matches. "If they wrestle and look dehydrated, tired and weak, then they are cutting weight improperly."
Northern competed in the Dino Freestyle Invitational Oct. 28 in Calgary and placed nine wrestlers in the top five. Caleb Schaeffer was fourth at 63 kg (kilograms) and Jessie Schaeffer was fifth at 63 kg. Lyle Cronk was fifth at 74 kg; Nate Laslovich was second at 78 kg; Kyle Fisher was fourth at 78 kg; Mark Lane was fifth at 84 kg; Tyson Thivierge was second at 84 kg; Turk Lords was first at 92 kg, and Matt Hoover was fourth at 132 kg.
Match ups Wednesday night at CMR were
125 pounds Gold Team: Wes Barrett, sophomore, two-time Montana state champ. Maroon Team: Abel Valdez, senior, two-time Oregon state champ. Valdez won 6-4 in OT.
133 pounds Gold Team: Caleb Schaeffer, freshman, two-time Montana state champion. Maroon Team: Jason Fratzke, senior, Minnesota state champion. Fratzke won 7-5 in OT.
141 pounds Gold Team: Kris LaBrie, freshman, three-time Montana state champion. Maroon Team: Kyle Nay, freshman, Montana state champion. Nay won 10-6.
149 pounds Gold Team: Scott Riggin, freshman, two-time Montana state champion. Maroon Team: Brent Riggin, freshman, three-time state champion. Brent Riggin won 9-6
157 pounds Gold Team: Bobby Mantle, sophomore, three-time Washington state placer. Maroon Team: Dustyn Azure, freshman, Montana state champion. Azure won 9-7.
174 pounds Gold Team: Brandon Springer, junior, two-time Washington state champion. Maroon Team: Kyle Fisher, freshman, two-time Montana state champion. Springer won 6-4 in OT.
197 pounds Gold Team: Tyson Thivierge, junior, three-time Washington state placer. Maroon Team: Turk Lords, senior, two-time Montana state champion. Lords won 4-1.
HWT Gold Team: Matt Hoover, junior, two-time Iowa state champion. Maroon team: Dan Eaves, junior, Montana state placer. Hoover won 13-5.
"It went real good," Coach Ray said in a telephone interview this morning. "It was exciting and the freshmen wrestled real well.
"Actually, this time of year, the young guys wrestled very competitive. They didn't back down to the returning national champions. They're not afraid or intimidiated."
Ray said that the matches provided him and the wrestlers with some idea of where they are right now and where they want to go.
"At this time of year, you want everyone to wrestle real hard," Ray said. "They had to make scratch weight for the first time this year and it showed. Some of the guys didn't lose weight properly."
The close scores indicated a high degree of determination among the wrestlers, especially the younger hopefuls.
"That was good to see, because those are the guys you are planning on for your future teams," Ray said. "Now I'd just like to see them keep the ball rolling and see some improvement every time we're on the mat. That would be nice, to pick up momentum by the time we're at nationals."
Northern travels to Powell, Wyo. for the Northwest Invitational Saturday. A week from Friday they face Western Wyoming College in Rock Springs and on Sunday, Nov. 12, they attend the Cowboy Invitational at Laramie.
The wrestlers' next matches on their home mats at Northern are scheduled to get under way at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 against Northwest College.