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Tigers wrestle well in dual loss

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Last week, the Fort Hays State University wrestling team entered the NCAA Division II national duals unranked. The Tigers defeated No. 8 Indianapolis 24-17 and lost to No. 4 Newberry 22-12. FHSU had to win its third match against Colorado State-Pueblo to keep competing.

After the first four weights, CSU-Pueblo had two forfeits and FHSU lost two matches. Then, Pueblo won the fifth match at 157 pounds.

"I was about to pull my hair out," FHSU coach Chas Thompson said.

FHSU rebounded to win the dual 28-15. On the final day of competition, the Tigers beat No. 10 Upper Iowa, 25-21, and No. 7 Kutztown, 23-15. FHSU finished in fifth place; Thompson said he believed it marked the highest finish in school history. This week, the Tigers vaulted to sixth nationally.

"As a team, we've chose not to look at the rankings this year," Thompson said. "You've just to prove it anyways. For the PR aspect of it, yes, it's great. I have gotten more compliments as a coach since national duals than probably in my career. It was definitely a pinnacle as far as my team doing something well, and the acknowledgment from our peers."

On Thursday, the Tigers continued their strong season in a 22-16 loss to No. 5 University of Central Oklahoma.

FHSU moved to 4-2 in dual competition, while UCO bumped to 5-2.

FHSU won five of nine matches and the dual was tied at 16 entering the final match at 285 pounds. Yet, the Tigers had forfeited at 285 before the dual started because Trey Page, one of FHSU's top wrestlers, has a skin infection.

"As a team, we wrestled awesome," redshirt freshman 184-pounder Jon Inman said. "In the books, it's not going to go down as a win, but personally, I think we did really good."

FHSU competed without three starters: sophomore 141-pounder Noah Killip (hamstring), senior 197-pounder Tanner Kriss (knee) and Page, a junior and one of the team's top wrestlers.

"We wrestled really tough," Inman said. "We had a couple of backups step up and wrestle really well."

Killip is expected to return to the mat Monday. Thompson wants Kriss and Page back by the road duals at Lindenwood (Mo.) University and Truman State (Mo.) University on Feb. 9 and 11. This weekend, FHSU will wrestle four duals at the Midwest Duals in Kearney, Neb. Like Thursday, the Tigers will have to forfeit at 285 pounds each time.

"If we can wrestle like that, I think we can come away with a few wins," Thompson said.

Sophomore Adam Ludwin, ranked No. 7 at 125 pounds and the Tigers' lone ranked wrestler, opened the match with an 8-2 victory. Ludwin is 20-8 and leads FHSU in victories. After a loss by fall at 133, senior C.J. Napier earned an 11-3 victory at 141 pounds. FHSU took a 7-6 dual lead.

Then, UCO has the No. 1 ranked wrestler in Division II at 149, 157 and 165 -- a trio that is 57-1. The Bronchos won all three matches.

"Murderer's Row," Thompson said.

The Tigers competed well. At 149, sophomore Joey Dozier lost by major decision instead of technical fall or pin.

"We wrestled really tough," Inman said. "We had a couple of backups step up and wrestle really well."

A major decision is worth only four points, while a tech fall is five and a pin six. At 157, senior Mitchell Means fell by decision. At 165, sophomore Bradley Little scored the first takedown, but eventually lost 5-2.

"He can hang with the toughest kids in the nation for sure," Inman said of Little. "I would honestly be surprised if he doesn't get All-American this year."

FHSU won the final three matches at 174, 184 and 197 pounds with redshirt freshman Josh Rodriguez, Inman and sophomore Zack Grimes with 5-2, 6-4 and 4-2.

"We lost," Thompson said. "It was a moral victory for us. You've got to find a way to talk positive with the team. I was like, 'Hey, we wrestled nine matches and we won five of them.'"