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By Tristan 

NAIA National Wrestling Tournament Preview: Ten Lights, One National Tournament

 


133 - Cameron Neiss (26-19)

A true freshman from Ronan, Cameron Neiss has had an instant impact on the Lights' program, just as Thivierge hoped he would when he recruited the former Class A state champion to Havre. Neiss has won 26 times in his rookie season for the Lights, and as Northern was without a 125-pounder for much of the season, Neiss has solidified the Lights in the lower weight classes.

Neiss has grown up quickly for the Lights and has worked hard to get to the level he's wrestling at right now. He placed at the regional tournament, even though he'd pre qualified for this weekend's national tourney. Neiss will be expected to score plenty of points for the Lights and his No. 9 ranking is an indication of his ability to be an NAIA All-American his first time out.

Competition: Defending 133-pound champion Tommy Pretty and runner-up Myles Mazurkiewicz have both moved up to 141. No returning all-americans at 133. Tim Thurston of Cambplesville and Travis Evans of Grand View are the top two seeds.

141 – Brandon Leliefeld (18-20)

Leliefeld has come on strong for the Lights in the second half of the season. Like many Northern grapplers, he's making his first trip to the national tournament, but the sophomore and former Washington state champion has been very consistent the last month of the season and should be able to score points for the Lights this weekend. However, Leliefeld is in one of the premier brackets in the tournament with former all-american like Pretty and Mazurkiewicz. So he'll have to wrestle at a very high level this weekend.

Competition: SOU's Kyle Wikurty is the returning all American at 141, but with Pretty and Mazurkiewicz moving up from 133 this season, as well as Notre Dame's Brett Freeman seeded No. 1, this weight class is loaded with talent.

149 – Anthony Weerheim (28-2)

What an addition Weerheim has turned out to be for the Lights. Coming in as an NJCAA All American at Clackamas College in 2010, Weerheim has taken the NAIA by storm. He's ranked No. 1 and is the top seed coming into the national tournament, and has just two losses on the season, one coming against an NCAA Division I opponent.

"Anthony has come in here and really affected our program in such a positive way," Thivierge said. "He's taken a leadership role on this team right away, and he's helped our younger guys out so much. He's very driven and a hard worker, and even though he'll have a tough road, he has high expectations for himself in this tournament. I believe he'll have a great national tournament. He's ready."

Competition: The Notre Dame duo of Ashtin Primus and Jeffrey Pelton are both returning all-americans at 149. Primus is ranked second behind Weerheim. The bracket also includes McKendree's Ryan Jahn, another returning all-american, as well as Weerheim's top rival in the west, SOU's Jimmy Eggemyer.

157 – Tay Todd (10-14)

A senior captain, Todd has plenty of veteran experience for the Lights. He's also had a strong senior season, and has been a huge influence on Northern's young wrestlers. Todd also comes from a great wrestling family, so he has the knowledge and skill to do very well on the mat this weekend.

Competition: Tyler Change of Embry-Riddle is ranked No. 1 at 157, but Notre Dame's Thomas Straugh is the defending champion. UGF's Michael Hader could also impact this bracket.

157 – Cody Miller (10-14)

The Lights doubled up at 157 pounds with freshman Cody Miller also qualifying for the national tournament. Miller has had a solid first season with the Lights and shown flashes of a bright future ahead. He and Todd squared off at the regional tournament two weeks ago, and together, they will hope to get Northern points in a very tough bracket.

Competition: Tyler Change of Embry-Riddle is ranked No. 1 at 157, but Notre Dame's Thomas Straugh is the defending champion. UGF's Michael Hader could also impact this bracket.

165 – Jared Miller (19-20)

His overall record might not show it, but Kotzebue, Alaska freshman Jared Miller is having an outstanding first season at Northern, and he's one of many Lights who are more than capable of getting all-american honors this weekend in Iowa. Miller has been consistent all season long at 165 pounds, and is a tough, hard-nosed wrestler who's shown he can be aggressive when needs to be, but also very technical. Miller will certainly be one of the grapplers Thivierge is counting on to score big this weekend, and possibly help the Lights to a trophy along the way.

Competition: There are no returning all-americans at 165, but this is another bracket in which Notre Dame is doubled up with top-ranked Kevin Hardy the favorite, as well as fifth-ranked Cody Butzer. Ben Knight of Morningside is also a strong national title contender.

174 – Max Payne (19-12)

After red shirting in last season, Payne has been an instant stalwart for the Lights. He's already a team captain and is looking for all-american honors in his first national tournament appearance. Payne's No. 11 ranking doesn't do justice to the fact that he's certainly a contender this weekend, and as well as he's wrestled for the Lights this year, no one in his bracket can afford to, or will overlook him.

"Max has had a great second half to the season," Thivierge said. "He's more than capable of doing very well this weekend and he expects a lot from himself. If he's wrestling up to his capabilities, and when he wrestles his match, he's tough for anybody to beat."

Competition: Glenn Rhees of Grand View is the returning national champion at 174 pounds, but Lindenwood's Chris Chinonuma is ranked No. 1 coming into this weekend. He's a returning all-american at 165 pounds who's moved up this season. Dickinson State's Cam Schrempp is another returning all-american and one to watch this weekend.

184 – Evan Hinebauch (24-7)

The 184-pound bracket is the one everyone will be watching this weekend, and former Havre Blue Pony Evan Hinebauch is a big reason why. After a slow start to the season, and an offseason injury, Hinebauch, who is a two-time all-american already, is wrestling maybe as well as he ever has. He finally beat UGF rival Michael French at the regional tournament, and both are heavy favorites to reach the final on Saturday night. Hinebauch comes in ranked No. 1 while French is two, and both wrestlers have something to prove as neither reached the championship match a year ago. Instead, they squared off in the consolation final. Hinebauch is gunning for his third straight all-american honor and hopefully, his first national championship.

"Evan is really focused," Thivierge said. "He and French are both examples of what happens when you look too far ahead because they both got upset at nationals a year ago. I think Evan learned a lot from last year's tournament and he's been focused on each match all season long and he hasn't looked ahead. He'll do the same this weekend, and I think he's ready to have a great tournament."

Competition: Hinebauch and French are the only two returning all-americans at 184, and both are considered national title favorites. Simon Fraser's Clete Hansen is another 184-pounder to watch this weekend, but the focus will certainly be on the Lights and UGF in this bracket.

197 – Kody Reed (10-15)

Injuries have slowed Reed down this season, but he's hoping to make his first national tournament appearance a good one. The freshman from Missoula has been Northern's only 197-pounder this season, and his strong first half to the year allowed him to pre qualify for the national tourney.

Competition: Returning national champ Derek Foore of Notre Dame is back in this bracket, but 197 might be wide open after being a senior-dominated bracket a year ago. McKendree's Andrew Sanchez is the No. 1 seed.

HWT – Rudy Schaffroth (20-9)

It's unusual for a sophomore to come in to a program from junior college, but Clackamas transfer Rudy Schaffroth has made himself right at home. He's won big matches for the Lights all season long, and while he's only ranked 11th coming into the national tournament, Shaffroth has proven he can contend for a national championship and all-american honors. However, the heavyweights are loaded this season, so Shaffroth's path to scoring big points for the Lights won't be easy.

Competition: Notre Dame's Orlando Scales is a heavy favorite this weekend after finishing second a year ago. Steven Butler of Lidnenwood and Travis Ewart of Missouri Valley are two more grapplers who could win it all at the heavyweight division as well.

 

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