The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team didn't get off to the kind of start it was looking for, as the Lights dropped their season-opening dual to North Idaho College last Saturday in Coeur d' Alene, ID.
Now however, MSU-N will get a chance to shift gears as the Lights compete in their first tournament of the new season. The Lights will be in Laramie, Wyo., Saturday for the annual Cowboy Open, a tournament which features NCAA Division I stalwart Wyoming, as well as a host of other talented teams, including Northern's biggest rival, the Great Falls Argos.
And MSU-N will carry a high national ranking into this Saturday's tournament. The Lights garnered a No. 2 ranking in the NAIA Preseason Coaches Poll, which was released over the weekend. MSU-N finished the 2013 NAIA national tournament in third place, and in the preseason poll, the Lights are ranked behind only defending national champion Grand View. It's Northern's highest national ranking since legendary David Ray departed the program.
But MSU-N head coach Tyson Thivierge's team isn't just ranked highly as a team, the Lights also start the season with a host of individually ranked wrestlers.
The 125-pound weight class really stands out as the Lights hold the top two slots. Junior Aaron LaFarge, who's currently up at 133 pounds, is ranked no. 1 in the NAIA at 125, while sophomore teammate Duell Stadel, a former Havre High state champion, is ranked No. 2.
The Lights also hold the top spot at 133 pounds. Senior Cameron Neiss, the 2013 runner-up at 133 is ranked No. 1, though he's currently wrestling at 141 pounds. Neiss is a two-time NAIA All-American. Meanwhile, junior Ethan Hinebauch begins the season ranked No. 2 at 165 pounds. The former Havre High great held the No. 1 spot for most of the 2012-13 season before finishing third at the national tournament.
Junior 157-pounder Mickey Cheff beings the new season ranked No. 3. Cheff is coming off a great 2012-13 season. Northern sophomore Toby Cheff, another returning All-American is ranked fourth at 197 pounds, while senior Kody Reed is seventh at 184. Reed was ranked No. 1 at 184 for most of last season, but suffered back-to-back upset losses at the national tournament. Northern red-shirt freshman Garrett DeMers jumped right into the 197-pound rankings as well. He starts his first full season for the Lights ranked No. 8.
Rounding out the list of ranked Northern wrestlers is junior Jared Miller, who's ranked No. 11 at 174 pounds. Miller red-shirted last season, but returns after a strong sophomore season two years ago.
In all, the Western Region has Northern ranked No. 2, UGF at No. 6, Simpson at No. 7, Southern Oregon at No. 8 and Menlo at No. 13.
After competing in the Cowboy Open on Saturday, the Lights will return to Wyoming Nov. 9 for the Trapper Open, then travel to Great Falls to take on rival University of Great Falls Nov. 14.
2013-14 NAIA Wrestling Coaches' Preseason Top 20 Poll
Rnk. Prv. Pts.
1 1 Grand View (Iowa) 143
2 3 Montana State-Northern 123.5
3 8 Missouri Valley 96
4 6 Campbellsville (Ky.) 72
5 5 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) 67
6 7 Great Falls (Mont.) 66
7 11 Simpson (Calif.) 55
8 2 Southern Oregon 54.5
9 9 Midland (Neb.) 51.5
10 20 Dakota Wesleyan 49
11 T16 Indiana Tech 46.5
12 NR Bethany (Kan.) 40.5
13 10 Menlo (Calif.) 39.5
14 15 Baker (Kan.) 38
T15 14 Cumberland (Tenn.) 36
T15 T16 Wayland Baptist (Texas) 36
T17 19 Missouri Baptist 26.5
T17 4 Dickinson State (N.D.) 26.5
19 12 Morningside (Iowa) 22
20 18 York (Neb.) 21
Others receiving votes: William Penn (Iowa) 20; Life (Ga.) 18.5; Cumberlands (Ky.) 18; Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) 16.5; Oklahoma City 16; Waldorf (Iowa) 12; Jamestown (N.D.) 11; Concordia (Neb.) 10; Calumet (Ind.) 10; Briar Cliff (Iowa) 9; Hastings (Neb.) 7.5; Northwestern (Iowa) 4.5; Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.) 3.5; Brewton-Parker (Ga.) 3; Benedictine (Kan.) 1.5.