By Ryan Divish
There is a philosophy in sports that puts all the importance at the end of the season. In this philosophy, the regular season is mainly about preparing for that end of the season tournament or championship wins and losses come and go. Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray is not a believer in this philosophy.
Ray won't accept anything less than victory, as his Lights wrestling squad opens its 2002-2003 season on Saturday when they host the University of Calgary Dinos in a dual meet, .
"To me the whole season matters," Ray said. "It's important. When you start off strong, it helps build confidence in the whole team and each individual. If we don't do well all season, how are we supposed to go to regionals or nationals and expect to win?"
A year ago, Northern defeated Calgary 40-3 in the dual. Northern's only loss in the dual came when Canadian national champion Mike Stitt defeated all-American Carl Valley, 3-0 in a tremendous match.
The Calgary squad traveling to Havre is a mixture of experience and talent. The Dinos will have six underclassmen in their lineup, but perhaps their most talented wrestler is a freshman.
Ryan Andrusky, who will wrestle in the 184 lb slot against all-American Kyle Fisher, is a Canadian junior national champion and wrestled at the Junior World Championships for Canada as well.
"That's going to be the big match," Ray said.
Besides Andrusky, Calgary's wrestler at 174, David Kooperberg is a senior and very solid. He will face Lights senior Trevor Floerchinger in what looks to be another good match.
Ray knows a little about the Calgary team, but he isn't too concerned with the opposing teams strengths.
"I'm familiar with a few of their guys," Ray said. "But I am really confident in the guys I have."
Ray has plenty of reason to be confident in his squad. They have taken full advantage of their new wrestling room and early season conditioning.
"I think we're ahead of where we were last year," Ray said. "I really believe we're ahead physically and mentally."
Northern's lineup will be all upperclassmen and should be very strong. However, some of his wrestlers including Fisher, Floerchinger and senior Bobby Mantle are wrestling a weight class heavier than last season. This is due to a pair of reasons. First, the wrestlers are working their way down to their normal weight gradually. And Northern's Mike Lester, who was slated to be at 184, has separated the AC joint in his shoulder. Lester is out indefinitely, but Ray expects him back in about four weeks.
The lineup Northern is using isn't set for the season. The Lights have a pair of intrasquad scrimmages following the duals that will be used to determine the lineup.
Besides the lineup, the format for Saturday's dual will be a little different.
"We are going to wrestle two three minute periods with 30 seconds rest in between," Ray said. "Just takedowns are going to be scored. If you take them from their feet to their back you can pin them. But if you just take them down, there are no turns, no riding or anything. You have to let them back up."
Regardless of the format, Ray's team is ready to get out and compete.
"It's a good warm up meet for us," Ray said. "The guys really want it. They've been looking forward to these matches. They've been working really hard."
Don't let Ray calling the meet a warm up fool you. It's a warm up he wants to win to get the season rolling.
"It's time to get on the mat, start beating some people and gain some confidence for the rest of the season," Ray said.
The Lights-Dino dual begins at 4 p.m. at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.