Northern grapplers face tough NCAA squads in duals
As far as Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray is concerned, the only real difference between NCAA and NAIA wrestling is the letters in the respective monikers.
"It's just different letters in the name of the division," Ray said. "Or it's the University of such and such rather than Montana State University-Northern."
Ray and his team will get to prove that as they will meet NCAA Division II Colorado School of Mines Orediggers and NCAA Division I University of Wyoming Cowboys in a pair of dual matches Saturday in Laramie, Wyo.
While Ray doesn't think there is much difference between NCAA and NAIA, he does know that both duals will be tough.
"Every dual is going to be tough from here on out," Ray said. "Each one of these duals we have to look at getting better. It's not that we have to win the duals, but we have to get better."
Still, don't think for a second that Ray doesn't want to win these duals because he does, NCAA opponent or not.
"Colorado School of Mines is going to push in some weight classes," Ray said. "And University of Wyoming is really going to push us. But we're going down there with nothing to lose. I personally feel we can beat everyone we face."
The School of Mines are a team Northern has seen on several occasions this year, most recently at the Dana College tournament. The Lights will open with them on Saturday morning at 10 a.m.
"They don't have anyone that really stands out," Ray said. "But they all are tough kids that aren't going to quit or give up."
The Orediggers have solid competitors at 157 in Peter Jenson, at 165 in Greg Chirieleison and at 184 in Mark Dubrovich.
Following the dual, Northern will have a two-hour break before squaring off against the host Cowboys.
Northern is also fairly familiar with Wyoming having wrestled in its tournament, the Cowboy Invitational, earlier in the season.
The Cowboys have a solid wrestlers at every weight division with a few standout at certain weights. Former Sidney star Levi Prevost is ranked nationally in the NCAA at 174 pounds. Prevost sports a 20-3 record and will be a solid test for Northern's Kyle Fisher. Blake Gunter (141) has a 13-7 record on the season and should be very tough. At 125, Bryce Leonhardt is a quality wrestler as well.
"Their guy at 125 is just a goer," Ray said. "He just gets after people. But if Andy Thompson is ready to wrestle that could be a really great match."
At 197, Northern's Emmett Willson has defeated Wyoming's Kevin Kessner twice on the season and Ray feels like he can also pick up wins from Caleb Schaeffer (133), Dustyn Azure (149) and Bobby Mantle (157).
The Lights will be forced to forfeit the heavyweight division again this weekend. Northern's heavyweight Matt Carter recently lost his mother to cancer and while he is back in Havre, Carter isn't quite ready to be on the mat.
"It's always going to hurt inside for him," Ray said. "But he's not ready to compete mentally and he doesn't feel physically ready."
With Carter gone, it could be a nine point turnaround in the team scoring. Carter had lost earlier this year to Brad Steele by only one point. Ray still believes that Carter was the better wrestler and would have beaten Steele this time around. But instead of Northern picking up three team points for a Carter win, Wyoming will pick up six points for the forfeit.
Despite the forfeit, Ray still thinks his team can beat Wyoming.
"We're not going to worry about the team score," Ray said. "We are going to take it one match at a time. If I have to put everybody that isn't wrestling in a room so we don't have a domino effect from a loss, I will do it."