The Montana State University-Northern wrestling team is coming off its longest break of the season. Now the Lights will make their longest road trip of the season.
Saturday and Sunday, the Lights will be in Springfield, Ill., for the 2012 NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals, one of the most prestigious regular season events on the wrestling calendar.
The sixth-ranked Lights will open the NAIA bracket against Morningside of Iowa at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. Morningside is currently ranked 11th in the NAIA and has 174-pounder Joseph Sievert ranked No. 1 in the country. The Lights bring several wrestlers ranked into this weekend's dual meet, including Evan Hinebauch ranked first at 184 pounds, Cam Neiss ranked fourth at 133, Anthony Weerheim ranked seventh at 149, Ethan Hinebauch ranked third at 165, Jared Miller ranked seventh at 174 and Max Payne ranked 10th at 174. For duals, Hinebauch and Payne could move up a weight each.
The Cliff Keen event features dual brackets at several levels of collegiate wrestling. The NAIA bracket has 16 teams, including top-ranked Great Falls and second-ranked Southern Oregon. Grand View, Lindsey Wilson and Oklahoma City, which rounds out the NAIA Top 25 are also in attendance.
If Northern wins its first-round dual against Morningside, the Lights will either face SOU or the University of Cumberlands in the second round. Should the Lights falter in the opening round, they'll face the loser of that dual in loser-out action. Top-seeded Great Falls wrestles York, Nebraska in the opening round.
The Lights haven't wrestled in competition since a Dec. 18 trip to the Reno Tournament of Champions, but this weekend's meet in Illinois marks the beginning of a busy stretch for Northern. MSU-N will return home just briefly before heading to Arizona for the Mile High Duals and Mile High Open hosted by Embry-Riddle next Friday and Saturday. The Lights will also wrestle at home Jan. 19 against Northwest College.