WHITEFISH — Few, if any, individuals know Montana State University-Northern athletics better than Christian Oberquell.
Now in his ninth year as the director of athletics at MSU-Northern, Oberquell’s career spans some two decades, beginning with a position as the Lights’ and Skylights’ certified athletic trainer before moving to associate athletic director in 2007.
The 2016 Frontier Conference athletic director of the year, Oberquell has spearheaded numerous changes and additions to the MSU-Northern athletics department, which includes the hiring of multiple new coaches.
“We just hired a new golf coach, Jim Kirkpatrick, and Jenna Jensen, who was our top, probably the best female golfer we’ve had at Northern, she’s going to be a student assistant,” said Oberquell. “We have some commitments from our teaching pro at the golf course that will help during the day. Hopefully we’ll get that program turned around and be a little more competitive in that, as well.”
“We got Jerry Wagner that came in, again, not as young as (football coach Andrew Rolin), but the support we’ve got behind the volleyball program right now with Jerry coming back and being in town, plus the way his recruiting has gone, they’re calling him and asking, ‘Hey, I hear you’re back, can I come for a tryout?’ Or it’s, ‘My friend plays up there, I would like to come up there, too,’” Oberquell said of Wagner, who returns to lead the Skylights volleyball program after beginning his career with MSU-N in 1987. “So things are going very well on the volleyball front and it’s going to be exciting with him back at the helm. And it’s a great hire for us to have someone of that caliber come in and want to give back to where he graduated from. Volleyball is going to be a fun one.”
While Wagner’s return to Havre certainly has rejuvenated Skylights volleyball fans, Rolin and the football program continue a promising rebuild. The second-year coach leads a young, energetic staff motivated to change the culture of the program, which has won only three games in the past three seasons. Rolin won his first game as Lights head coach, as Northern defeated Mayville State 49-20 last August.
Rolin stresses a “brick-by-brick” mantra, seeking to build the complete roster one piece at a time, that has impressed Oberquell in their first 18 months together.
“Football is going really, really well. Andrew has been out recruiting, he’s been getting a lot of interests, working really hard, he’s been nonstop recruiting all spring and summer, getting the camps. He’s pretty excited about the people that are returning, getting them in their second season of his program. The kids have all bought in and it’s getting to be fun again,” said Oberquell.
While programs like football, golf and volleyball look to build under fresh faces, Northern’s other athletic teams display experienced coaches. Tyson Thivierge and the Lights wrestling program are continually one of the top programs in the country, earning a runner-up finish in 2016, with numerous top-10 placements. The Lights have also crowned national champions, with Brandon Weber and Benjamin Stroh each claiming individual titles in 2017, and dozens of all-Americans under Thivierge’s tutelage.
Thivierge added to an already-loaded roster this offseason, adding Montana wrestlers like Caden Hilliard (Great Falls High) and Devin Crawford (Helena High), as well as transfers Brock Bushfield (Billings Skyview, Rocky Mountain College) and four-time high school state champion Clayton Currier (Colstrip, Campbell University).
“Wrestling had a great recruiting season, and we’re getting a lot of compliments from previous alumni and past coaches that are very, very excited about where we’re going. Everyone right now is shooting for (eight-time defending NAIA national champion Grand View) and we’re getting close,” Oberquell said. “Our Cascade Conference wrestling is probably the best in the country from top to bottom, and there are a couple schools in the Cascade that are targeting, specifically going after Grand View, because we need to get back up there where we belong.”
Oberquell has also been front and center to impressive basketball campaigns, with the Lights and Skylights competing for Frontier Conference titles and berths in the NAIA national tournaments. Former Skylight guard Natalee Faupel earned the Frontier Conference player of the year honor in 2016, while Sydney Hovde and Peyton Kehr collected all-conference accolades this winter. The men’s team landed five players on the honorable mention all-conference list.
“Men’s and women’s’ basketball, Shawn Huse did a great job recruiting, as well. We’re working on where we’re going to be in 2021 when we go to one division of basketball, and we’re going to have to bring in some more talent, even higher-level talent, because, instead of 91 schools, you have 270 schools that you’re competing with to get to Kansas City and Sioux City,” said Oberquell. “(Women’s basketball coach Chris Mouat) always finds the best talent, gets the best out of his girls. If he’s a little short on expectations on one of his recruits, he knows how to get the rest the best out of them.”
“Cross country has had a good recruiting season, as well,” Oberquell continued. “(Head coach Chad Spangler) is bringing in, probably three or four more kids than we’ve ever had, kids that have had some background in running. They surprised a lot of people last year and should be even better this year, middle of the pack, I’m guessing. Hopefully we’ll have one or two that can qualify that just missed last year, qualify for nationals, and we’ll be back on the stage with that.”
MSU-Northern’s 2019-20 athletic season begins Wednesday, Aug. 14 with the Skylights’ annual volleyball maroon and gold scrimmage, with the first official match slated the following night against Medicine Hat College. Rolin and the football team kick off their season on Saturday, Aug. 31 at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix.