Iowa wrestling wraps regular season in Montana -- wait, what?

Andy Hamilton
Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands calls for takedown points as Topher Carton wrestles Rutgers' Anthony Ashnault at 141 pounds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Carton lost by decision, 8-4.

The mere mention of college wrestling’s fast-approaching postseason brought a smile to Sam Brooks’ face this week.

“This is the best time of year,” Iowa’s junior 184-pounder said. “This is the time we work through the whole season for and the whole preseason and the whole summer before that. This is when things start to get exciting.”

Well, not quite yet. There’s still one more regular-season assignment for the newly-minted Big Ten dual meet champions. The second-ranked Hawkeyes wrestle Friday night at Montana State-Northern. Then it’s back to Iowa City for a Feb. 22 date against an opponent yet to be determined in the National Championship Dual Series before Iowa begins final preparations for the Big Ten Championships.

So how about this trip up near the Canadian border to take on the NAIA’s Northern Lights?

“It’s cool,” Brooks said. “It’s one more place we get to go and whip some tail.”

There’s more to this journey than just a tail-whipping opportunity for the Hawkeyes. This is a wrestling goodwill trip.

“We look to get out and promote, and we haven’t been out west (lately),” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “It’s important to get out to other corners of the wrestling world that don’t see this type of program in their neck of the woods. I think this is a good thing.”

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Montana State-Northern coach Tyson Thivierge thought he was being pranked when Iowa officials reached out to express their interest in making a trip to Havre, Montana. It was the same reaction he had nearly 15 years earlier as an athlete when David Ray, a former Simpson and Iowa assistant and then the head coach of the Northern Lights, told his team that Terry Brands was joining the program as a member of his staff.

“He brought a world of experience,” said Thivierge, a four-time NAIA All-American who, with Brands in his corner, won the outstanding wrestler award at the national tournament as a senior in 2002. “His presence alone makes you listen, and it demands respect. As a team, we had a great time with Terry. Just having him in the corner lifted you up, and you were peaking every time you stepped on the mat with him in his corner. He elevated you so much.”

Terry Brands left Montana State-Northern after one season to become the head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga. Thivierge followed and spent a year as a graduate assistant with the Mocs. Their relationship forged the connection for Friday’s dual, which, despite butting heads with the Montana state high school tournament, has already sold out of its reserve seating.

“I’m still trying to make sense of this, to tell you the God’s honest truth,” Thivierge said. “This is a big deal for our program, for the state of Montana. This is like Alabama coming to play our university’s football team. That’s how I’ve associated it. … This is something that really helps our university. It helps our community in so many ways.”