By MSU-N wrestling coach David Ray
For the first time in six years the Montana State University-Northern Lights wrestlers were accepted to compete in the Midlands Invitational Tournament at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., on Dec. 29-30.
Out of the 63 teams entered in the tournament, only 19 schools were not NCAA Division I. Northern was the only NAIA-affiliated institution entered.
The Lights finished in 12th place and had two wrestlers place in the top eight, including their first finalist, Tyson Thivierge at 184 pounds.
Thivierge's trip to the championship finals included victories over the number seven seed, number 10 seed, number two seed and the number three seed. He defeated fifth-place All-American Damion Hahn of the University of Minnesota and Jessman Smith of the University of Iowa.
In the finals, Thivierge competed against Victor Sueda, third in the NCAA in 2001, from the University of Indiana. In his first appearance in the Midlands Tournament, he finished second, losing to the number one seed 9-5.
Emmett Willson, at 197 pounds, finished in sixth place as a sophomore in his first appearance in a Midlands Tournament. Willson won five matches, defeating the number six and number seven seeds. He lost a consolation semi-final match to Jon Trenge of Lehigh University 2-1. Trenge, who is presently ranked number two in the NCAA Division I poll, finished third.
Willson also lost to the number five seed, Nick Preston, of Ohio State University 5-3. Preston is presently ranked fourth in the NCAA Division I.
Northern finished in 12th place with 34 points, but entered only four wrestlers who were able to score team points. Many other teams that placed in the top 20 were allowed to bring 10 wrestlers to score team points.
The Lights performed very well, placing above Big Ten Conference teams like Purdue University, Northwestern University, the University of Hofstra, Central Michigan University, the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, and the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club and the Sunkist Wrestling Club.
MSU-Nothern assistant coach Lee Fullhart finished second to three-time NCAA champion Carl Sanderson of Iowa State University 5-3 at 197 pounds. Sanderson is undefeated. For his efforts, Sanderson was named the Outstanding Wrestler and Champion of Champions.
Fullhart went 4-1, winning by scores of 20-5, 20-8, 21-6, and 12-3. Fullhart is training for the 2004 Olympics at the 184.8 weight classification and is currently ranked third in the country for the U.S. National Team.