Thivierge, Willson capture individual titles
By Kim Staudinger
Some may call it fate. Others may say it just wasn't meant to be. Either way, the Montana State University-Northern Lights wrestlers fell just short at their bid for a national title Saturday night at the Bison Fieldhouse in Great Falls.
With five wrestlers in championship matches, things looked promising for Northern, which was down nine going into the final round. Lindenwood, which was first going into the finals, had three wrestlers up for first place. Two of those three wrestlers were set to face Northern wrestlers Brian Holt vs. Kyle Klonizos at 165 pounds and Dustin Zahursky vs. Kyle Fisher at 174 pounds.
But the Lights could only muster enough strength to win two of their finals matches while Lindenwood won all three of its matches.
The feeling was ominous from the very start. Senior Carl Valley was pinned in 1:29 by junior Justin Portenier from Dakota Wesleyan. Portenier is a returning All-American and ended his season with a 27-7 record. Valley finished his career at Northern with a 26-8 record.
Valley, who broke down in tears immediately following his match, said afterward he wasn't sure what had happened in his match.
"I don't know," he said. "I just got out of position."
He said the over-capacity crowd was a benefit.
"The crowd actually helped me tons," he said. "There was no pressure, just pressure I put on myself wanting to win my last match of college and everything."
Northern head coach David Ray said Valley's loss came as a surprise.
"I thought we might be the one getting the six points there," Ray said. "(Portenier's) a go-er, he's a gambler. He got in on a nice deep cradle. He's strong and he finished it."
After the Valley match, Northern had to wait for four more matches before its next wrestler came up. Meanwhile, all eyes were glued to the mat as one of Lindenwood's wrestlers was due up.
Lindenwood's Dustin Teeman hoped to set a different tone for his teammates, being the first wrestler for his team.
He did just that, winning by major decision 15-5 over Saul Lucatero from Menlo College. Coach Ray said he didn't expect Teeman to get the win, and after he did Ray knew Northern had to win the next four matches to even have a shot at the title.
Junior Kyle Klonizos at 165 pounds hoped to stop the downward spiral for Northern and take some momentum away from Lindenwood.
Down numerous times in the first round, Klonizos fought back and let everyone know he wasn't going to be pinned.
"You don't get pinned at the national tournament anytime and you don't stay on your back either," Klonizos said. "He knocked me on my back right off. It's hard to come back from that."
Hard, but still Klonizos came back.
Klonizos was down 5-1 after the first, and after two more near-fall points by his opponent, Dustin Zahursky, with 54 seconds left in the second, Klonizos found himself down 9-3 going into the final period.
Chants of "Go, Kyle, Go" rang out from the crowd during the final two-minute span, but it wasn't enough as Klonizos lost by decision 11-4.
"The crowd helped out a lot the whole tournament," Klonizos said. "They helped me a lot. I could hear them behind me. It helps keep you going."
Klonizos was unseeded going into the tournament and his opponent was ranked fifth. While second place in the nation is impressive for anyone, not to mention someone who is unranked coming into the tournament, Klonizos said the loss still stings.
"Right now I hate being number two," he said. "It's the worst spot to be in. But later I'll look back and be proud of it. It's just a hard pill to swallow for a while."
Ray said he felt the team title start to slip out of reach of the Lights with the score at 176 points for Lindenwood to 158 for Northern.
"After Kyle Klonizos, the finals match, we had to win all three of the next matches by pins just to tie," he said. "We thought maybe it would happen. You wish for it, but realistically we knew it was pretty much unlikely. Still, I never underestimate what my team is capable of. We knew we could do it because we had Kyle Fisher, Tyson Thivierge and Emmett Willson up next and they could pull anything off."
Knowing they were down but not out, an invigorated Fisher stormed his way onto the mat.
Fisher, now a Northern sophomore, placed fourth at last year's national tournament and was ranked fourth coming into this year's tourney. His opponent, Lindenwood's Dustin Zahursky, was unseeded.
Each time the two wrestlers went go out of bounds, Fisher scurried back to the center of the ring, ready to compete.
Still, after the first period, Fisher had just one point, an escape point. Zahursky had four.
The crowd, packed with Northern fans, began chanting once again after the first with "Go, Kyle, Go." The Lindenwood fans responded with chants of "L.U., L.U."
Fisher came out in the second round with the look of determination in his eyes but still was unable to get Zahursky off his feet. Fisher scored just one point in the second, another escape point, and wound up losing the match 9-3 by decision.
A very emotional Fisher ran off the mat immediately following the loss, tears streaming from his eyes.
The sophomore said his match was frustrating.
"I couldn't stay on my shots well," Fisher said. "I just didn't get the job done."
Though it isn't much consolation right now, Fisher still has two years of wrestling left.
"I'll be racing for the title the next two years," he said.
Fisher's loss sealed the victory for Lindenwood and meant that all three finalists from the now championship team had won individual titles. To top things off for Lindenwood, coach Joe Parisi was named NAIA wrestling coach of the year.
"The three guys that lost in the finals just made technical mistakes," Ray said. "It wasn't conditioning or anything else. They just put themselves in a bad position where their opponent could score against them."
Of Fisher's match, Ray said his opponent looked physically strong, but that it was more of Fisher not being in the right position at key times.
The Lights did not get their team title, but a senior who would stop at nothing short of a title was due up next for Northern Tyson Thivierge.
Thivierge had fallen short of a national title in his three previous tournament appearances, taking third twice and second once.
But this time Thivierge got the illusive title, winning by major decision 20-6 over Will McCleve from Embry Riddle University. Thivierge dominated his opponent from the very beginning and the crowd could sense the win, chanting "Tyson, Tyson" throughout the final two minutes of the match.
When the final buzzer sounded, the crowd and Thivierge exploded. Thivierge ran to Coach Ray and embraced him, thanking him over and over again.
Then Thivierge raced across the mat to the crowd, where he hugged and kissed his fiance. With the crowd still going wild, Thivierge hugged his father before running up the stairs into the crowd to hug his mother and other family members.
"This crowd has shed as many tears as I have these last four years," Thivierge said. "I finally got over that last hump and got the monkey off my back."
The title marked the first time Thivierge had an individual championship. He finished his final season with a 46-3 record.
"Tyson was on a mission from the beginning of the year," Ray said. "He accomplished a lot this year."
Thivierge hasn't lost a match since Dec. 29 when he took second at the Midlands Invitational.
Ray said he wanted to make sure everyone realized how powerful Thivierge is.
"I wanted Tyson to get (the) outstanding wrestler (award)," Ray said. "I didn't want him to win 6-0. That's why I kept saying, Let him go.'"
Thivierge let his opponent escape holds many times, giving him the one point just so Thivierge could take him down again for two points. With control like that, Ray said, "he did look like the best."
Thivierge won the Gorrarian Award for the outstanding wrestler of the meet.
Northern's final wrestler of the night was sophomore Emmett Willson. Willson knew what Thivierge had just accomplished and wanted to follow with an individual title of his own.
Willson, the No. 3 seed entering the tournament, ended the night with a 43-5 record, defeating No. 4 seed Michael Sills, who finished with a 17-2 record.
While Willson won the match easily, 8-3, numerous injuries by Sills stopped any momentum Willson had going.
"Emmett would have been able to dominate that guy if he would have been able to go continuous," Ray said.
Said Willson: "It was frustrating only being able to go for 30 seconds, but it worked out in the end."
Willson's win marked the fifth consecutive year the title at 197 pounds has belonged to a Northern wrestler. Turk Lords won the title the previous four years. Before the match, Willson said, Lords had told him to just go out and have fun and relax.
Willson described his thoughts and emotions when it was over.
"It means a lot," he said. "You work all year, you work hard for it and to finally get what you want is incredible."
And as it had all tournament long, the crowd once again showed its enthusiasm for Northern with chants of "Emmett, Emmett" and "Go, Emmett, Go!"
After Willson's match, Ray said it was nice to finish on a positive note. It took away some of the bitterness, he said.
"We had to settle for second," Ray said. "It doesn't matter if you are hosting (the tournament) or not, (the national championship is) what you want. It's a team effort and I'm proud of the whole team."
Also adding finishes in the top eight and earning All-American status were: Caleb Schaeffer in fifth place at 133 pounds, Eric Dunmire (141 pounds) in third, and Matt Carter (heavyweight) in fourth.
Now the never-ending job for Ray continues.
"It all starts again now with recruiting," he said. "I'm excited right now; I want to get recruiting. I'm thinking about next year already. There's no time to take a rest or take a break."