Northern wrestlers grab regional title; six claim individual titles
Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray was looking for domination at this past weekend's North Central regional in Bismarck, N.D.
Ray didn't get domination. Instead he'll have to settle for a regional title, six individual champions and a region coach of the year award.
"Everybody thought we did so great, but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for," Ray said.
What he was looking for was all 12 of his wrestlers in the finals and winning every title. Sure, it's asking for a lot, but Ray's high expectations come from a strong belief in his wrestlers' abilities.
More importantly, winning individual titles, would help for the seeding at the NAIA national tournament.
Still, Ray found plenty of positives about the weekend.
"Last year, we had nine people in the finals but won only five titles," Ray said. "This year we have six in the finals and win all six. And the guys that repeated from last year are much better wrestlers than they were last year."
Northern got individual titles from Caleb Schaeffer (133), Anthony Haukenberry (141), Bobby Mantle (149), Mike Lester (184), Emmett Willson (197) and Matt Carter (HWT).
Schaeffer was dominant, registering a 10-2 win over Ryan Synhorst of Dickinson State in the semifinals and pinning Huron's Tell Jacobs in the finals.
Haukenberry snapped his personal six-match losing streak in a big way, picking up a 4-1 win over Jamestown's Nate Gerrard in the semifinals and a 6-1 win over Jamestown's Jake Esser in the finals.
Mantle, who was making his debut at 149 for the first time this season, looked very sharp at the lighter weight. He defeated Dakota Wesleyan's Justin Hood, 2-0, in the first round and former Light wrestler Kyle Nay of Dickinson State 4-2 in the semifinals. Mantle capped the championship by pinning Dickinson's Tyrone Martinez.
Lester continued to wrestle well for Northern, pinning Nick Small of Jamestown in the semifinals and easily defeating Elijah Simburger of the University of Mary, 17-4, in the championship.
Willson repeated as regional champion with his usual dominant performance. He picked up pins over Dakota Wesleyan's Andy Newell and Mary's Jack Lindsley to reach the finals where he dominated Mary's Jesse Laber, 15-1.
Carter also picked up two early pins, advancing to the championship. He stuck Zach Pierson of Jamestown in the first round and Dickinson's Matt Benjamin in the semifinals. The championship match wasn't quite as easy as he defeated Jamestown's Brandon Lemer, 4-0.
Northern's also got third-place finishes from Andy Thompson (125) and Kyle Fisher and a fourth-place finish from Neil Samoy.
Thompson battled back after losing to eventual champion Aaron Hartnell in the semifinals to finish third by pinning Dakota Wesleyan's Wes Fergen.
Fisher was also defeated in the semifinals by rival Gabe Harry of Dickinson State, 8-5. However, he picked up a pin on Doug Michael of Dakota Wesleyan and defeated Mary's Dallas Heid, 9-2, to claim third.
Samoy lost his first-round match to Jamestown's James Meland despite leading 10-7 in it. In the wrestlebacks, Samoy defeated teammate Aaron Jensen, 8-2, to advance to the consolation final where he was defeated by Meland for the second time.
Jensen suffered an overtime loss in the semifinals to Jamestown's Tom Iverson.
"It was a tough loss," Ray said. "He had his opportunities. If he could have gotten past that match, I think he could have won the championship match. Honestly, I expected a little more from both him and Samoy at 157."
But it wasn't just Ray who was disappointed in the performance.
"Even the team thought we looked flat," Ray said. "After the tournament I was disappointed, but a day later I feel better about it. At the other regional tournaments, no other team had six individual champions."
Northern will hit the practice mats this week before heading to Great Falls for the NAIA National Tournament on March 7-8.