The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team is off to a strong start in 2013. But one thing the Lights had yet to do was wrestle at home.
However, on Thursday night, Northern took full advantage of its home mat, defeating both Northwest College and Southern Oregon in a double dual at the Armory Gymnasium.
In their home debut, the No. 2 Lights beat Northwest College, the No. 1 ranked NJCAA team in the country, 27-18 in a thriller. Then, MSU-N took down SOU, the NAIA runner-up from a year ago. In the second dual, the Lights put together a dominating performance, beating the Raiders 36-12, while only losing one match on the mat.
“I’m very pleased,” MSU-N head coach Tyson Thivierge said. “We wrestled especially well in the second dual, and for a second dual that was nice to see. The first dual was very tough. They (Trappers) are a tough team and they kind of took it to us early. Fortunately, we got ourselves out of that dual with a win, and it was nice to see us come right back and wrestle so well against Southern (Oregon). We really trusted our conditioning in that second dual, and I think we’ll take a lot away from tonight.”
The first dual saw the Lights come from behind against Northwest, and it was a pair of MSU-N’s big pinners who got the job done.
The Lights trailed the Trappers 18-12 heading into senior Kody Reed’s 184-pound match with Miles Nixon. And after feeling his way through the early part of the first period, Reed found an opening, got Nixon on his back and got the six points Northern desperately needed to have a chance at a comeback win. And just minutes later, sophomore Toby Cheff put Northwest's Jon Wixom on his back for a pin at 197 pounds, putting the Lights ahead 24-18. Freshman Jorrell Jones then finished things off with a 4-0 win at heavyweight.
“I knew we needed bonus points,” Reed said. “But I didn’t really go out there thinking about the pin. I just tried to be patient and if there was an opening I was going to attack it. There was and that was all she wrote.”
“Those two pins by Kody and Toby were big,” Thivierge added. “Those guys are huge for us. There was a time when they would be in that situation and they would get too far ahead of themselves. But tonight, they were both patient and waited to seize the opportunity. They wrestled really well, and those two got us out of a very tight dual.”
The dual was tight because Northern fell behind after Aaron LaFarge opened with a win at 125 pounds. Duell Stadel moved up a weight Thursday night, and was pinned at 133, and though Cameron Neiss pulled the Lights even with a pin at 141, MSU-N had to give up a six-point forfeit at 149 pounds. Then, Mickey Cheff (157) and Jared Miller (174) lost hard-fought decisions, and all of a sudden, the Lights were down 18-12 late in the match.
“Northwest was very tough,” Thivierge said. “They came in here and kind of took it to us, and what we learned is, we can’t let that happen in our gym. That’s what we do to teams when we’re on the road, and early on, we let it happen to us. We got punched in the mouth early, but we also responded late and that was nice to see. It was a very tough dual. It was a scratch dual for eight matches. So we’ll take a lot from that dual tonight, and we’ll learn from it.”
While the Trappers brought the fight to the Lights in the opener, Northern did the same to Southern Oregon in the nightcap.
The Lights jumped all over the Raiders, with LaFarge and Stadel pulling out key decisions at 125 and 133 pounds, respectively. Neiss then picked up his second pin of the night, giving the Lights a 12-0 lead three matches in. Hunter Azure, who couldn’t go at 149 because of sickness, had to forfeit again at 149 pounds, but the Lights didn’t let that stop the roll.
Mickey Cheff bounced back from his early loss to Northwest by gutting out a crucial 3-0 decision over Travis Patrick at 157 pounds, then, junior Ethan Hinebauch, who won by forfeit against Northwest, worked his way to a third-period pin of talented SOU senior Garrett Urrutia at 165 pounds. Hinebauch’s bonus points offset No. 1 ranked Brock Gutches’ pin of Miller at 174, and after a SOU forfeit at 184, the Lights were out to a commanding 27-12 lead.
But Northern didn’t let up. Freshman Garrett Demers came in at 197 pounds and pinned nationally ranked Ethan Hinton in just :49, and junior Rico Paz (HWT) capped his MSU-N debut with a 2-1 win in the final match of the night.
“We haven’t beaten SOU in the time of been here, and this is my fifth year,” Reed said. “Tyson (Thivierge) is right in that the important thing is for us to keep improving no matter who we’re wrestling. But winning both these duals tonight was a big deal for us. It feels really good to finally beat SOU.”
MSU-Northern senior Cameron Neiss works on Southern Oregon's John Gay during Thursday night's dual in Havre. Neiss, top, eventually pinned Gay, and won both his matches by pin.
It also felt good for Northern to get two more dual wins, and look especially impressive in its home debut. The Lights won’t wrestle at home again until Jan. 18 so Thursday night’s wins, especially coming off of last Thursday’s victory at UGF, will be a good springboard for the Lights as they head back out on the road.
“I’m really pleased,” Thivierge said. “I saw a lot of good things tonight, especially with the way we came back and wrestled in the second dual. The guys were much more aggressive and they wrestled much smarter against Southern Oregon, and that shows growth by all of them.
“It’s good to win in our gym, and both duals were tough, we got a good test tonight,” he continued. “So we’ll take a lot of positives away from tonight, and keep going forward.”
Northern will wrestle Doane College and Simon Fraser Saturday night at the Cardinal Duals in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. The Lights will also compete in the Spokane Open Sunday.