Raiders set to play new role: underdogs

The Southern Oregon University wrestling team doesn't usually go into NAIA dual meets as an underdog — especially on two straight nights.

That will be the case this week, however, when the seventh-ranked Raiders hit up No. 2 Montana State-Northern today and No. 6 Great Falls (Mont.) on Friday. Both duals begin at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

"They're definitely loaded and we're kind of in a rebuilding phase, so it'll be an interesting trip," SOU head coach Mike Ritchey said. "I know their teams pretty well because they've been around, and they haven't seen most of our guys so we at least have that advantage."

After the duals, the Raiders will head to Sunday's Spokane (Wash.) Open.

MSU-Northern and Great Falls have turned into regulars on SOU's schedule in recent history. SOU lost its first four duals against Northern, starting in 2011, but won the last seven, including last season's 25-18 triumph in Ashland. The Raiders dropped the first four duals of their series with Great Falls, which didn't begin until 2006, but won the last four, including two tight ones last season (23-17, 23-19).

Northern, which has six returning all-Americans on its roster, lost its first dual of the season against North Idaho but defeated Great Falls last week, 26-15. Great Falls defeated North Idaho in its only other dual.

The Raiders will be working toward their 44th straight winning dual record. They won their first against Menlo, 30-18, and are coming off last weekend's SOU Open, at which they produced seven top-three placers.

Top-ranked 174-pounder Brock Gutches and top-ranked 184-pounder Jacob Abrams were SOU's two champions and have gone untouched so far, but Abrams will be unavailable this week. There are a few other question marks, too, but the Raiders could see the return of fifth-ranked 197-pounder Taylor Johnson at heavyweight.

Trevor Hancock (133), Tyler Cowger (149) and Dalton Urrutia (165) all took third at the Open and are slated to be in the lineup.

"I liked the way we wrestled last weekend," Ritchey said. "If we wrestle well again, we'll be in it; and if we don't, we won't be. That's how it'll be for us for a while."

The Raiders will be off for nearly a month after this week, returning to action at home on Dec. 19-20 against Simpson, Clackamas and Simon Fraser.

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