By Ryan Divish
This weekend is what they call a character builder for the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team. The Lights embark on a 1,500 mile round trip road trip, wrestle a pair of duals today against Lassen Community College and Western Wyoming Community College in Green River, Wyo. and following the match drive to Laramie, Wyo. for the University of Wyoming's Cowboy Open featuring some of the top competition in the Northwest.
"This weekend is going to be a good indication to see where were at," said Lights head coach David Ray. "We're going to find about what kind of character and integrity the team has."
Ray isn't concerned about the mileage or two duals in a day, his team is used to that. It's the tougher competition that the Lights will face.
"The competition level will be a lot better that what we have faced this season," Ray said. "And I want to see how they react to it. If they are down are a bunch of points, do they keep battling like it's a one point match?"
Lassen Community College is a solid program that features several wrestlers from overseas, according to Ray.
"Very few if any of their wrestlers are from the U.S.," Ray said. "They have some guys from Russia and other places."
Western Wyoming also returns a few junior college all-Americans at the 141 and 165 pound weight class.
The competition will be tough, but it only gets tougher on Sunday. The Cowboy Open will feature teams from all over the region. Defending Pac-10 champion Boise State will be at the tournament. The Broncs are ranked 13th in the country according to the InterMat wrestling poll. The host Wyoming Cowboys also have a solid team. Besides those two teams, top NCAA Division II teams and other solid NAIA programs will also be there.
"I think they're pretty excited about the tournament," Ray said. "I know I am excited about it. It will certainly be a good test."
Northern will be aided by the return of 184-pounder Mike Lester, who until now was out with a shoulder injury. Lester won't be in peak physical condition, Ray admitted. He will work Lester back slowly and determine how much mat time he sees this weekend.
Besides Lester, Northern's starting lineup has solidified with the only change coming at 165, where former Havre High standout Aaron Jensen will make his varsity debut.
As much as he can, Ray is trying to be diplomatic about the weekend. He knows that his team will be facing tough competitions and wins will be well earned.
"I need to be more concerned with my team improving, instead of wins and losses," Ray said. "It's all about gaining experience. They have nothing to lose. They just need to go out and battle."