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Griffon men prepare for first matchup of season against Northwest

Jan. 9—Saturday will be the newest chapter of the Highway 71 rivalry, with Missouri Western and Northwest men as evenly matched in terms of record as they've been in some time.

In the Griffons corner of the ring heading into the highly anticipated matchup, it's nothing but respect for the Bearcats, especially given the lopsidedness of the rivalry in recent history. Head coach Will Martin is looking for his first win against Northwest as head coach of the Griffons. During practice on Tuesday, he spoke highly of the team Ben McCollum has rolled out each and every game throughout the years.

"I think they're really efficient offensively and that's where a lot of the attention comes," Martin said. "But when you scout them and you play them, you realize just how tough and physical they are on the defensive end. And I think that's what has separated them over the years and they don't get enough credit for that. I think that they're one of the best defensive teams that you're going to face at this level or any level."

The last time the Griffons and Bearcats duked it out was in the MIAA Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. The torment from the Bearcats reached another level when they ended Western's season and puts an extra sense of motivation in the hearts of several players, even the players who got their first taste of the rivalry last year like junior Taye Fields

"We've been waiting for this game ever since we lost last year in the MIAA Tournament. You can just feel the energy, the passion, all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears that's going into this game," Fields said.

Northwest will have a target on their back once again by being ranked 14th in the NABC Division II polls, but also by owning the series with Western as of late. Western has had its share of fights against the Bearcats under Martin, but never able to put together a full game to knock off its upstate rival. The fact that the victories are lacking for the Griffs in the history of the matchup has junior Zion Swader not considering it a rivalry at this point.

'Technically, in my eyes, it's not really a rivalry until we can put a win up on the board against [Northwest]," Swader said. "We just gotta come in, same mindset every game."

Northwest is first in the MIAA Conference standings whereas the Griffons are currently fifth and riding a two-game win streak as they await Northwest on Saturday.

Jacob Meikel can be reached at jacob.meikel@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @NPNowMeikel.