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FHSU wrestlers head to regional

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Last year at a collegiate wrestling coaches' meeting, one of the coaches noticed some teams are in the same conference, but compete at different regionals. For example, Fort Hays State University and University of Nebraska-Kearney were in the West Region, while teams such as University of Central Missouri, Truman State (Mo.) University and University of Central Oklahoma all were in other region. All five teams are part of the MIAA.

"The argument was, if you are in the same conference, you should be in the same region," FHSU coach Chas Thompson said.

The NCAA switched the regions so conferences aren't split. Instead of taking the top four from every region's weight classes to the national tournament, two regions qualify the top three in each class. The two biggest regions, including FHSU's, qualify the top five.

Thompson is impartial to the change, but wants bigger brackets, instead of the 16 in each weight class at nationals. He wants at least 20 national qualifiers and would be pleased with 32, but the NCAA has said no.

"Division II is growing, Division I is shrinking," Thompson said. "So, in turn, that means that Division II is just getting tougher. We are getting more teams, we are getting more wrestlers who would commonly go Division I are now going Division II."

On Friday and Saturday, Fort Hays competes at the 17-team Central Super Regional at UCO in Edmond, Okla. In the team rankings, Nebraska-Kearney stands second in the country, while UCO is fourth, MIAA member Lindenwood (Mo.) University is eighth and the Tigers 15th. Tiger senior C.J. Napier is fourth at 141 pounds, while senior Tanner Kriss is seventh at 197.

Even with the change to five wrestlers to nationals, the Central region is considered the nation's hardest -- and FHSU is expected to have multiple wrestlers on the bubble entering this weekend.

"We are going to have a bunch of guys sitting at four or five seeds, so if we wrestle to our seed, we get to go to nationals," Thompson said.

Kriss (10-4) reached the national tournament last year, while Napier (26-4) reached it two years ago. Senior 157-pounder Mitchell Means (17-6) also has national experience.

"Mitch is wrestling great right now," Thompson said. "He has faltered a couple of times during the year, but for awhile there, I think he went on a nice, little win streak."

Junior heavyweight Trey Page (24-10), sophomore 125-pounder Adam Ludwin (30-13), sophomore 133-pounder Symon Seaton (19-17), sophomore 149-pounder Noah Killip (15-8), sophomore 165-pounder Bradley Little (12-10), junior 174-pounder Josh Rodriguez (13-8) and 184-pounder Jon Inman (22-6, MIAA Freshman of the Year) will make up the starting lineup.  

Killip's weight class is arguably the toughest with one through five nationally in his region.

"Especially with a lot of weight classes at our region, there is eight, nine guys that probably deserve to go," Page said. "Since there is five now, it makes it a little bit easier to be able to go. Our 149, Noah Killip, there's probably at least 12 guys in his weight that could really place at nationals. Same with mine -- there are probably about eight or nine good kids."

Kriss hurt his knee at National Duals in mid-January and at first thought his wrestling career could be over. Kriss' heel got stuck and the opponent hit his knee. He hyperextended the knee, tore his meniscus and a big chunk of cartilage floated around. Kriss, who also fought a dislocated thumb at the start of the year, feels great now.

"Honestly, mentally-wise, I couldn't be more prepared, I don't think," Kriss, from Colby, said. "I had that break and it made me want it -- and made me want to wrestle more, so it's actually helped me out in the mental aspect of wrestling."

Kriss has been doing sprint workouts on air bikes -- bikes commonly seen at fitness centers where one can move their arms and legs - and Thompson is pleased with his shape. The team has also started doing the workouts the last several weeks.

"Remaining focused," Kriss said of the key to qualifying. "It's getting kind of around the spring and people are out and about, and everyone is kind of going out and socializing. Staying on the grind and not getting caught up with any of that that's going on outside of wrestling."