BILLINGS — It’s a dream three-day weekend for Montana wrestling fans.
On the eve of the state high school wrestling tournament, the University of Providence and Montana State-Northern will meet in a college wrestling dual at Billings Senior at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
Providence (13-4) is ranked ninth in the NAIA Coaches Poll and Northern (7-4) is ranked 20th. It is a home dual for the Lights, who were originally set to host the dual in Havre.
Lights 12th-year coach Tyson Thivierge said the decision to hold a home dual in Billings the week of the state tournament was logical, but one that took time to develop. It is also a hard decision to give up a home event.
“Our biggest recruiting event of the year is the Montana state tournament,” he said. “I have been mulling over this for five or six years now and thinking about pulling the trigger.
“I got to thinking, you know there is no better time than now. It will be a great promotion for great programs. I’m hoping Providence, when they have their home dual, will do the same thing.”
UP interim coach Steve Komac said he’s thrilled to bring his wrestlers to the Magic City the night before the two-day, 31st annual all-class state wrestling tournament begins at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
“I know the two programs have talked about doing it down there for years and tried to figure out the best time and best facility and everything else,” Komac said. “I think they best determined the best way to make it work would be to do it the night before and at one of the high schools.
“I think it is a great event. It will be available for a lot of people already in town and a lot of coaches. Hopefully, we see great attendance and I think we will.”
Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and children. Senior coach Josh Beeman, who wrestled at UP when it was known as the University of Great Falls, said both sets of bleachers in the main gym will be down in anticipation of a big crowd.
“It will just elevate the excitement for the weekend,” Beeman said of the Lights-Argos match. “Two extremely good coaches with really good teams. Hopefully we get a bunch of people come to watch. Parents and grandparents will get to see the potential their wrestlers have once they graduate high school. We have a couple good colleges and coaches in the state of Montana.”
The last time these two programs met, the Argos slipped past the Lights 25-22 on Nov. 7 in Great Falls.
Both coaches think it will be another tight contest.
“It will be a great dual,” Komac said. “I think the 20th ranking for the Lights is based on a lineup they had before Christmas. They have gotten healthier and added people to their lineup and I think they are a better team than that. We have been steadily climbing all season. I think it will be a very well contested dual.”
Northern toppled Embry-Riddle 37-7 on Feb. 6 and then downed Northwest College 34-11 on Feb. 7.
“Last time it was a closely contested dual,” Thivierge said. “Providence is wrestling out of their minds right now. They are dangerous. We picked up a lot of momentum last week. We had some upsets in the Embry-Riddle dual we created.
“Like any other UP-Northern dual, it doesn’t matter if we are both 0 for 10, it will be an exciting dual. We bring the best out of each other.”
For Thivierge, the weekend will also give him a chance to watch his son, Orion, a sophomore for the Havre Blue Ponies, perform at the high school state meet at Metra. Orion won the Eastern A divisional at 160 pounds and is ranked second in the Class A Coaches Poll.
“I have to play double duty, being dad and recruiter,” Thivierge said. “This is my 12th year going to the state tournament. I am there every single year recruiting and talking to kids and coaches. It’s nothing new to me, but now I have my son wrestling.”
Komac previously had been the head coach at Great Falls High for 16 years and spent three years with the Bison as an assistant. He was also the head coach for six seasons at Browning.
He’ll have his first taste of what it’s like to be at the state high school meet in his new role this weekend.
“I am excited to coach that dual and excited to watch the high school state tournament,” Komac said. “I haven’t sat in the stands and watched a high school state tournament in 25 years. It will be a different seat. I’m not very good at sitting and watching wrestling. I tend to think I need to be matside and it will be a neat experience for sure.”
Following are projected lineups, with national rankings where applicable:
University of Providence: 125, No. 11 Eli Walston, Columbus; 133, Clayton Gilliam, Spokane, Wash.; 141, TJ Baun, Colville, Wash., or Gavin Gies, Spokane, Wash.; 149, No. 3 Shonn Roberts, Columbia Falls; 157, No. 4 Casey Dobson, Great Falls High; 165, No. 12 Jordan Komac, Great Falls High; 174, Alex Quick, Boise, Idaho; 184, No. 12 Hayden Schrull, Helena High; 197, No. 6 John Hensley, Boise, Idaho; 285, No. 6 Justin Harbison, Missoula Sentinel.
MSU-Northern: 125, No. 17 Nick Kunz, Helena Capital; 133, Landon Bailey, Helena High; 141, Clayton Currier, Colstrip; 149, Lane Paulson, Havre; 157, Caden Hilliard, Great Falls High; 165, Nakoda Siegel, Colstrip; 174, No. 10 Chase Short, Great Falls High; 184, Carl Hansen, Elko, Nev., or Cody Golding, Oakdale, Calif.; 197, No. 2 Isaac Bartel, Mason City, Iowa; 285, Rylan Moldenhauer, Great Falls High.