(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best wrestlers in Montana history on Jan. 16 with the launch of the #MTTop20. Athletes will continue to be featured until Friday, Feb. 10 when No. 1 is unveiled.)
Top 20 rankings: No. 20 – Jarrett Degen; No. 19 – Luke Weber, No. 18 — Ben Stroh, No. 17 — Curtis Owen, No. 16 — Chris Currier, No. 15 — Chris Nedens, No. 14 — Kyle Smith, No. 13 — Jade Rauser, No. 12 — Scott Barrett, No. 11 — Gary Albright.
No. 10 – Turk Lords, Great Falls CMR
Through Montana’s storied high school wrestling history, many athletes find their best days occur after their prep careers. Dozens blossomed in college, adding to their already impressive legacy. Turk Lords enjoyed a fine prep career, but he became one of the most dominant athletes in NAIA history during his time at MSU-Northern.
Turk Lords stat sheet
Lords was a two-time high school state champion at Great Falls CMR after he transferred to the Electric City and lived with his grandparents to compete on the Rustlers’ wrestling team.
A constant competitor at the junior national level, he placed in numerous events, including the 1995 Junior National Greco-Roman championship. He finished runner-up in the national freestyle competition to fellow Montanan Brandon Eggum. The match went into overtime where Eggum prevailed.
Lords received various Division I opportunities but after chatting with then MSU-Northern wrestling coach David Ray, he decided to join the Lights’ program at the NAIA level. Ray and the Lights were ecstatic to keep Lords in the program for four consecutive years.
In 1998, Lords won his first NAIA national championship, capturing the 190-pound title in the season’s final weekend. His finish, along with national titles from three of his teammates (?) helped the Lights to the NAIA team championship.
Lords won his second straight individual championship in 1999, this time at 197 pounds. Teammate Mark Lane was also the top medalist at 174 pounds as the Lights defended their national team title.
His dominance would continue into the new decade as both Lords and the Lights’ would again defend their titles. The 197-pound champion joined elite company as a three-time NAIA national champion.
In 2001, the Lights streak of team championships finally came to an end, although the program still finished fifth in the NAIA. Lords capped his career with his fourth NAIA individual championship, becoming only the sixth athlete at the time to capture first place all four years. He was honored as the 2001 NAIA outstanding wrestler, or wrestler of the year, and finished his Lights’ career with a record of 126-10.
Lords also won the Montana AAU Little Sullivan award in 2000, joining previous wrestlers like Scott Barrett, Jim Darlington and Fritz Campbell as winners of the award.
This past fall the NAIA recognized Lords by inducting him into their hall of fame. Lords, along with Coach Ray and former teammate Emmett Willson, were all inducted at the same time, adding to the Lights’ wrestling legacy.
… on Lords
Former MSU-Northern wrestling coach and NAIA hall of fame inductee David Ray: “His junior year after he won state and when he went to junior nationals in Fargo. That’s when I noticed him. I remember watching him and thinking, ‘My god this guy is a physical specimen. You don’t see high school kids that are as physically defined as he was.’ He said, ‘I’m going to come to Northern,” and I said, ‘Just come in and redshirt your first year. You’re going to help our team just by working out because of your competitive level. Just redshirt and if you want to stay here, fine, if you want to go Division I you can.’
“At first I was surprised (he stayed all four years). I just knew his level of competition – like I said, he was already placing against Division I athletes. I had a few calls from people in Division I and I told him about those opportunities, but he said, ‘This is where I want to be. I’m happy here. I like it and I like my workout partners and the atmosphere and training.’ So was I happy? I was ecstatic.
“Confidence. Turk never lost, well all of his losses were to Division I wrestlers. He never lost to an NAIA, NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III or junior college wrestler. During that course, I think he defeated eight individuals that were national champions at other weights. I would move him up to heavyweight. It was just a great feeling every time I put him on the mat. It was just confidence. I was confident enough in him and it’s contagious. If you’re that confident in your athlete, he knows it. He thinks he’s going to win because the coach wouldn’t put you there if he didn’t think you were capable of doing it. He thought he could beat anyone and he did beat Division II national champions, he beat junior college national champs and NAIA national champs at different weights. It was just fun.”