GREAT FALLS — With the end of the Cascade Collegiate Conference wrestling season comes the NAIA wrestling championships in Des Moines, Iowa from March 1-2.
After a strong team season, the University of Providence Argos are sending seven wrestlers to the Hawkeye state. Of those seven, two are up in the heavyweight class: senior Matt Hopkins and redshirt-junior Justin Harbison, both ranked in the top 10 nationally. In high school, Harbison only qualified for state twice while wrestling for Missoula Sentinel, but now this is his third straight nationals trip.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride to say the least. I’ve had a lot of ups, a lot of downs, but I’ve always seemed to figure out how to have the ups at the right times so far in college — that is peaking around regional time and making it to the national tournament. Three years in a row, it’s pretty crazy to think,” said Harbison.
Hopkins, Harbison, and redshirt-junior John Hensley, who is also heading to nationals, make up a special group on the Argos team: “The Smash Brothers.” The idea came from a source you wouldn’t normally think of.
“It was Mighty Ducks. We were watching The Mighty Ducks and they were the bash brothers that came in and scored a lot of points,” said head coach Caleb Schaeffer. “When things didn’t get calmed down, those guys would come in and win the matches, that’s kind of what we’re doing with our big guys.”
“To quote Schaeffer, you have to win. You’ve got to win some duals,” said Hopkins. “When it comes down to it’s 197 and you in heavyweight, if it’s that close, we have to win the matches when it counts.”
That’s exactly what these three have been doing, picking up the team when it matters. You would think that position could be stressful, but for Providence’s big “Triple H,” these three remain relaxed, laughing and locked in heading into nationals, as they have been all year.
“It is a really tight bond. I took a tough loss this past weekend in the semis and John Hensley was right there in the back of me saying, ‘Hey, you have to rebound, you have to score, you’re big for our team.’ If it wasn’t for him helping me getting me mind back clear, I was able to come back and take third and punch my ticket back to the national tournament,” said Harbison. “It’s a brotherly bond, it’s something that is really special as far as we’re always keeping each other relaxed at big tournaments and making sure we’re focused.”
“We’re all kind of identical, you know? We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves, or else it’s not going to go well. A key thing I love for all three of us is just keep it fun,” said Hopkins. “Just messing around always and keeping the light pressure. When everyone is drilling all serious, myself, Hensley and Harbison are over there messing around, having fun and enjoying ourselves.”