In college wrestling, rivalries don’t get much more intense than the one which will take place tonight in Havre. That’s because the Montana State University-Northern Lights and the University of Great Falls Argos are the only game in town when it comes to collegiate wrestling in Montana.
The rivalry is also intense because the Lights and Argos recruit many of the same prep wrestlers, because both Tyson Thivierge and Caleb Schaeffer are former Northern national champions and, most of all, because both teams want state bragging rights and a chance at an NAIA national championship.
All of that is on the line in tonight’s second dual of the season between No. 3 Northern and No. 4 UGF, which will start at 7:30 at the Armory Gymnasium.
“This rivalry brings the best out in both teams and it will ultimately be great to see where we are heading into regionals and nationals,” Thivierge said.
“I love coming back to where I wrestled,” Schaeffer said. “The fans are great in Havre and it is good for my guys to go into a hostile environment like the one at the Armory. The best part of the dual is it starts the weekend off right for Montana wrestling before the state tournament. No one will be cheated with the matchups in this dual of two the best programs in the nation. Fans will not want to miss it.
The last four seasons have saw a series of incredible matchups between the Lights and Argos, but Northern is now on a five-dual win streak against UGF. Back in November, the Lights won on UGF’s home mat 26-15, and MSU-N has won the last three matches in the Armory. However, things have changed slightly since that November matchup. The Lights lost their two top-ranked 125 pounders in Aaron LaFarge and Duell Stadel. LaFarge suffered an injury that will force him to miss the remainder of the season. Northern is also open at 149 pounds as Hunter Azure decided to retire from the sport.
MSU-N has also gone through a bout of injuries throughout the season, which has really hampered its dual lineup. Still, the Lights have pressed on and have gone 14-4 in duals this season.
“We have had holes in our lineup, we have been banged up and dealing with injuries,” Thivierge said. “But our guys have always persevered and are ready for this challenge.”
And Northern needs to be ready because UGF is coming on strong. And every match tonight figures to be close. Right from the start, MSU-N sophomore Riley Miller will have his hands full with UGF’s Danny Luttrell, ranked No. 2 in the NAIA. At 133, freshman Doug O’Hara will go for the Lights against No. 2 Michael Ruiz, while the 141-pound match pits Northern senior Cameron Neiss, ranked No. 4, against No. 9 Kyle Wilson. That match figures to be pivotal as Wilson wasn’t in the lineup in the dual in Great Falls.
And the great matches will keep on coming. The Lights are open at 149 pounds, while Mickey Cheff, who’s had a standout season and is ranked No. 4 at 157, will take on UGF’s Nick Schmidt, ranked No. 13, though the Argos could move nationally ranked 149-pounder Ryan Martin up. At 165 pounds, No. 2 Ethan Hinebauch could face UGF’s Brock Picard, who looks to have dropped down from 174 pounds.
The 165-pound match starts a strong of key bouts for the Lights, including Jared Miller, ranked No. 5, taking on Taylor Vaughn, ranked No. 13. At 184, Northern’s other senior, Kody Reed, ranked No. 6, will have his hands full with No. 4 Kameron Jackson. Jackson beat Reed In a close 5-0 match back in November. The 197-pound match will pit No. 2 Toby Cheff of Northern against Casey Park for UGF, while Northern freshman Jorrell Jones will take on UGF’s David Lopez in the heavyweight match. Both grapplers are un-ranked, and that match could very well decide the outcome of the dual.
“Should be another great dual even with them (Lights) a little banged up,” Schaeffer said. “They still have six guys in their lineup that are very dangerous. Tyson does a great job getting his team ready for this dual, and on paper it looks like it is 5-5. Bonus points should decide the dual and Northern is known for big wins with pins.”
The Lights will be ready and so will the Argos. It’s rivalry night and senior night at Northern so emotions will be running high. However, Thivierge’s ultimate goal is the regional and national tournaments, and tonight is the last chance for the Lights to prepare for the postseason.
“We had better be on point,” Thivierge said. “UGF has been getting better each and every week and it seems like we have been through the ringer lately. But whatever the outcome, our goal is to peak at the right time and be ready to push for that national title.”
Tonight’s dual will start at 7:30 at the Armory Gymnasium. Reed and Neiss will be honored before the start of the dual. Both Northern and UGF will be off until the West Regional Feb. 22 in Menlo, Calif.