NAIA grapplers invade Havre for Western Regional tournament
Last updated ERROR at ERROR
There will be plenty at stake on Saturday at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. The reason so much will be on the line for NAIA wrestlers from around the western U.S. is because the last spots in the NAIA national wrestling tournament will be on the line when teams from MSU-Northern, the University of Great Falls, Southern Oregon, Menlo College, Cal Baptist, Embry-Riddle and Simon Fraser gather in Havre for the NAIA Western Regional qualifying tournament. The tournament, which gets underway at 9 a.m. Saturday will feature six of the Top 20 teams in the NAIA with UGF leading the way at No. 2. SOU is No. 6, and CBU is No. 7 in the last NAIA Poll. SFU is No. 11 while the Lights are ranked No. 16 and Embry-Riddle is No. 18. The event will also feature some of the top grapplers in the country, although lineups are not set do to certain wrestlers already having qualified for the NAIA tournament. Northern has three spots filled with Steven Quesada at 141 pounds, Evan Hinebauch at 184 pounds and Evan Mattingly at 197. Hinebauch and Mattingly will be competing for regional championships this weekend, but both grapplers are in loaded weight classes. The 184-pound class features four returning All Americans, including Hinebauch and UGF's Michael French, as well as defending national champion Chris Platt of SOU. The rest of Northern's lineup on Saturday will be battling to join teammates at the national tournament. Havre's Ryan Shelstad will compete at 125 pounds, while Harlem's Chase Dirden will go at 133. Brandon Leliefeld will go at 149 pounds, while the Lights will send out veteran Austin Ouelette at 165. Ouelette, one of MSU-N's two seniors, has been injured most of the season, but is a returning national qualifier and has dropped to 165. Jim Smith will also compete for the Lights at 165. Northern has been riddled with injuries this season and has a short-handed roster heading into the postseason. Still, head coach Tyson Thivierge says the Lights have a chance to not only do well in Havre on Saturday, but to get more wrestlers into the NAIA tourney. And for wrestlers like Hinebauch, Mattingly and Quesada, as well as visiting competitiors who already have their ticket to Iowa punched, this weekend is about championships and national tournament seeding. "We have a great chance to punch three to four more tickets to nationals," Thivierge said. "All we have to do is focus on wrestling one match at a time and not worry about qualifying. We have been stressing to our guys all week that records, tournament placing and such mean nothing as of right now. We just need to step on the mat focused on building leads and wrestling for 7 minutes." The tournament, which will be wrestled on two mats, will determine the last spots available at each class. Of interest will also be former Havre Blue Pony and UGF 133-pounder Myles Mazurkiewicz, who has already qualified for nationals and is ranked third in the nation. The Argos will be the heavy favorite this weekend, bringing eight ranked wrestlers to Havre. However, Southern Oregon has been ranked as high as No. 1 this season and will look to challenge UGF for the team title. Cal Baptist, which also has several top seeds, will also have a chance to score plenty of points in Havre. But being shorthanded won't stop the Lights from giving it their all on their home mat. "Overall, I feel we can put together a great day of wrestling," Thivierge said. "We have to be able to wrestle through adversity and be consistent throughout the tournament." The 2010 NAIA Western Regional will get underway at 9 a.m. on Saturday and run through Saturday afternoon at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.