MSU-Northern wrestling program is building something very special
A month ago, I talked about wishing I could have attended the 2013 All-Class State Wrestling Tournament in Billings. Well, chalk the 2013 NAIA national wrestling tournament to the list of ‘I wish I could have been there’s’.
I was there in 2004 when the Northern Lights captured the national championship that weekend. It was an exciting day for all Northern fans, and especially for a journalist just starting out in this business. It was exciting because the Lights captured a national title in Great Falls, in front of over 1,000 adoring Northern fans.
There were lots of reasons why that night in Great Falls was exciting, but never in my wildest dreams did I think, on that night, that it would be nine years before the Lights hoisted another wrestling trophy.
That nine-year drought ended on Saturday night, far away from Havre, in Des Moines, Iowa. The Lights scored 104 points, crowned seven NAIA All-Americans and saw junior Cameron Neiss make a run all the way to the 133-pound championship match in the 2013 NAIA national tournament. And as result, they placed third in the team race and carried the first trophy back to Havre since that magical night nine years ago in Great Falls.
It must have been a special Saturday night in Iowa, knowing the Lights officially stamped themselves as an NAIA wrestling power again. Now I know there were disappointments. I know the Lights didn’t get the individual national titles they were hunting for, and I know, as with any national tournament, they left some team points on the mat.
But in the grand scheme of things, Saturday night was an all-out triumph for a Northern program which had dipped to as low as placing 16th at the 2006 national tournament. It was also the next step in the journey of head coach Tyson Thivierge, who has been on a four-year mission to restore Northern wrestling pride to a program he himself earned a lot of glory in when he wrestled for the Lights.
And what a job Thivierge has done.
He’ll be the first to tell you, it’s been a long process. None of this happened overnight. It’s required hours and hours of dedication, hard work on the recruiting trail, and a lot of blood sweat and tears by so many over the last four years.
But it all paid off on Saturday night. Thivierge said everyone involved with Northern wrestling was excited about the Lights’ result this past weekend in Iowa. And they should be. It isn’t easy to bring a traditional power like Northern back from falling down, and that’s what Thivierge and everyone associated with the program has done over the last four years.
And as I said earlier, Saturday’s third-place finish was the next step — because it is. Getting a trophy this weekend isn’t the culmination of anything. In fact, it’s a new beginning. Northern returns every wrestler on its roster next season, the Lights will have a host of star red-shirts who will join the lineup, and no doubt, Thivierge will sign another solid recruiting class this spring and summer.
No Saturday night wasn’t the end of the Northern story. Instead, it was just another chapter. With what the Lights achieved this season, with what they have coming back for the 2013-14 season, and with a great head coach like Thivierge at the helm, this Northern wrestling story will likely end up being an epic tale.