The state’s two college wrestling programs shined at the 57th annual NAIA Wrestling National Championships in Topeka, Kan., over the weekend.
While Grand View College of Des Moines, Iowa, was busy tying an NAIA team record of 193 points — equaling that of Dana (Neb.) in 2006 — en route to its third-straight team title, the two Montana colleges from the Frontier Conference made Treasure State fans proud.
The Argos finished second with 84.5 points, besting the third-place Lights by one point. It is the second straight year the Lights have finished third. The second-place showing is UGF’s highest finish at the national meet, with the team’s previous best being a third-place showing in 2010.
Argos coach Caleb Schaeffer, who was a teammate of Lights coach Tyson Thivierge at MSU Northern, said the race for second was neck-and-neck.
“It could have been either way with us and Northern. It was back-and-forth the whole tournament,” Schaeffer said. “The good thing is when we get to the national tournament, we root each other on. It is a brotherhood. As long as we are not wrestling each other, we root each other on.”
Schaeffer is in his seventh season as head coach at UGF. Prior to that he was an assistant for three years with the program. The Argos started competing in in the 2004-05 season and placed 10th at nationals. They have been sixth three times, fourth twice, third once, were 12th in 2009 and seventh last year.
The progression has been a joy for Schaeffer to see.
“I call wrestling a roller-coaster ride,” he said. “There are ups and downs. There are so many teams that would love to take second in the country. Everyone gets greedy and wants that national title. For a real small school to take second in the country is a great deal.”
Five wrestlers earned All-American honors for the Argos in Michael Ruiz, 133 pounds, 5th; Kyle Wilson, 141, 4th; Ryan Martin, 149, 4th; Chad Cebulski, 157, 4th and Shawn Lau, 165, fifth. Martin is from Lewistown, Cebulski from Malta and Lau from Kalispell.
According to Schaeffer, 30 of the 49 All-Americans in the history of UGF wrestling hailed from Montana. This year at 125, Schaeffer noted sophomore Luke Schlosser (125), a four-time Montana Class B-C champion from Conrad, was one round away from being an All-American.
Cebulski is a good example of how a wrestler can develop in college Schaeffer said, noting that in his senior year of high school the junior did not place.
“We knew he had all the tools to be pretty good. He needed to get into a bigger program and wrestle with the best kids in the country,” Schaeffer said of Cebulski. “He has flourished and wanted to be one of the best kids in the country and has worked his butt off year-round. In the offseason, he wanted to get better. It is amazing for kids like that to have the success he’s had all year.”
For the Lights, Cameron Neiss was third at 141; Ethan Hinebauch second at 165; Jared Miller second at 174 and Garrett DeMers fifth at 197.
Neiss, a senior from Ronan, wrapped up his career as a three-time All-American. Hinebauch, a redshirt junior from Havre, is also a three-time All-American.
Southern Oregon’s Brock Gutches won his third-straight title at 174 with a 3-2 win over Miller and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler. Chad Lowman of Grand View narrowly downed Hinebauch 7-5 to win his second-straight national crown. Lowman, a senior, captured the 157-pound bracket last year.
Thivierge did not return calls from The Gazette on Sunday.