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Northern grapplers hunting for NAIA berths in California


February 20, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Clayton Currier, left, wrestles against Embry-Riddle earlier this month in Havre. The Lights are headed to the postseason now, with the first stop the Cascade Conference Championships this weekend in California.

With the dual season behind them, now, the real work begins for the Montana State University-Northern Lights. Every college wrestler's dream is to make it to the national tournament, and 12 Lights will get that chance this weekend.

The No. 20 Lights will be in California Friday and Saturday for the Cascade Conference Championships, where places in the NAIA national tourney will be on the line.

And those spots are coveted because they're based on the final NAIA rankings in each weight class. How many Cascade wrestlers are ranked in the final NAIA Top 20 at each weight, is how many automatic berths are on the line in each specific weight. From there, wildcards are the other way grapplers can advance to nationals.

Advancing as many wrestlers as possible to nationals is also always the goal for Northern head coach Tyson Thivierge. And the Lights have at least a few sure-fire grapplers who will contend for conference championships this weekend, led by junior Isaac Bartel, who is ranked No. 2 at 197 pounds and is the favorite at the CCC. Providence' John Hensley is Bartel's chief rival in the CCC, but he hasn't lost a conference match in the last two seasons.

Northern junior Chase Short has also been coming on strong at 174 pounds this season, and he will be one of the top wrestlers in that weight this weekend. The 174-pound bracket is deep, though, led by Embry-Riddle's Daniel Butler, but Short has been wrestling at a high level all season long, and should have a great chance to get back to the national tourney.

The Lights will also look to score big in the lower weights. Junior Nick Kunz will be the No. 3 seed at 125 pounds, where the Lights also have senior standout Rob Pair in action. At 133 pounds, Landon Bailey leads the way for the Lights, who will also enter Carl Cronin there. Bailey has been dealing with injuries for much of this season, but he, too, has a great shot to reach another national tournament.

Northern sophomore Clayton Currier does, too, at 141 pounds. He's only ranked sixth in the CCC going into his first conference tourney, but Currier, when healthy, has been a beast on the mat, and he will have a great chance to punch his ticket this weekend as well.

In the middle of the lineup, the Lights will have a lot of inexperience. True freshmen Lane Paulson (149), Caden Hilliard (157) and Nakoda Siegel (165) will all be getting their first crack at postseason wrestling, and while it won't be easy, all three definitely have the firepower to make noise at the CCC.

Rounding out the lineup for the Lights in California will be another true frosh, Carl Hansen at 184, and sophomore heavyweight Rylan Moldenhauer. Moldenhauer has been wrestling really well of late and could also get through the draw and on to nationals.

And that's the goal, getting through to nationals, though the Lights also want to win a CCC team title, too.

To do that, Northern will have to out-gun the likes of host Menlo College, arch rival Providence and Embry-Riddle, all three of which are likely favored this weekend. Still, Thivierge knows what his team can do, and he thinks they can do plenty of damage this weekend.

"We just need to make a few adjustments, a few tweaks here and there," Thivierge said after last week's showcase dual against the Argos in Billings. "But our guys will be ready. They are peaking right when we hoped they would, and now it's all about going down there and getting as many to nationals as we can."

The 2020 Cascade Conference Championships will run Friday and Saturday at Menlo in Atherton, California. Any Lights who qualify will then great ready for the NAIA national championships March 6-7 in Wichita, Kansas.


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