Three years of planning, preparation, and paperwork has resulted in Montana State University-Northern hosting the NAIA national wrestling tournament in Great Falls today through Saturday.
The annual event, the culmination of competition for college wrestlers in NAIA schools, will be held at the Great Falls High School Bison Fieldhouse.
"There wasn't space in Havre to arrange all of the events, and there were lots of other things going on here this weekend," Northern head wrestling coach David Ray said.
About 200 competitors from 23 colleges and universities in states like Arizona, California, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Kansas will take part in the tournament. All wrestlers qualified at regional tournaments held in mid-February, Ray said.
Preliminary events began Wednesday, which included seeding meetings and other events. Competition for women wrestlers begins today and will conclude Friday. Competition for men begins Friday and will continue through Saturday. A Hall of Fame banquet will be held Saturday between rounds.
Planning for the event involved assuring appropriate facility availability, securing cooperation of the Great Falls wrestling community, being sure of financial support, and finding enough people, paid and volunteer, to handle the hundreds of jobs that have to be done.
Ray asked head football coach Walt Currie to be the tournament director.
"He's the person who deals with everything at the site," Ray said. "He's already got 100 volunteers working."
An NAIA representative had to visit the area to give final approval.
"A year after we sent in all the paperwork, the guy came down," Ray said.
Approval means Havre will also host the event next year, and possibly the year after.
Ray estimates that it will cost close to $40,000 to put on the tournament. Money will come from ticket and program sales.
"We've got to make sure we get enough spectators for the event, and we've sold ads so what we get for the programs is profit," he said.
Ray said he anticipates a good performance by the Lights.
"Individually if they all wrestle up to their capabilities, are mentally strong, if they make things happen, we will put on a good show."
The Lights won their regional tournament two weeks ago with 147.5 points, nearly 50 points over the second-place team, the University of Mary, with 98 points. Jamestown College finished in third place with 57.5 points.
Six Northern wrestlers won individual titles at the regional meet Caleb Schaeffer, Bobby Mantle, Kyle Fisher, Tyson Thivierge, Emmett Willson and Matt Carter. Taking second place for the Lights were Carl Valley, Eric Dunmire and Mike Lester. Earning third-place finishes were Andy Thompson and Kyle Klonizos. Dustyn Azure added a fourth-place finish for Northern.
The Lights also return four NAIA All-American wrestlers from last year's team Azure, Fisher, Thivierge and Willson.
At last year's national tournament, Willson finished third at 174 pounds, with Thivierge also placing third at 184 pounds. As a team, the Lights placed fifth at nationals with 106.5 points. Southern Oregon, a team the Lights defeated earlier in the season, won the championship with 158 points. Missouri Valley placed second with 151.5 points and the University of Mary third with 115 points. Lindenwood with 114.5 points was the other team to finish above the Lights.
Northern won three consecutive national titles from 1998-2000. Northern also has two national titles from the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Coach Ray was named national coach of the year in the three seasons from 1998-2000.
The following are the 12 wrestlers who will be representing Northern at the national tournament this weekend:
125 Carl Valley, Andy Thompson
133 Caleb Schaeffer
141 Eric Dunmire
149 Bobby Mantle
157 Dustyn Azure
165 Kyle Klonizos
174 Kyle Fisher, Mike Lester
184 Tyson Thivierge
197 Emmett Willson
HWT Matt Carter