Napier, Inman among best for Tiger wrestlers
By CONOR NICHOLL
C.J. Napier came to the Fort Hays State University wrestling program two years ago. Napier, from Columbus, came with acclaim after he previously competed -- and started -- at NCAA Division I University of Nebraska.
Last winter, Napier was ranked for most of the year and was one of eight Tiger wrestlers who remained alive after the first day of Division II regional competition. However, Napier fell short and didn't qualify for the national tournament.
Jon Inman, from Branson, Mo., went overseas for some competition and wrestled at some major high school national tournaments. He arrived on the FHSU campus last year and spent 2012-13 as a redshirt.
This winter, Inman and Napier helped the Tigers, unranked earlier in the season, to vault to No. 6 nationally.
The duo remains unranked, but led FHSU in winning percentage entering Saturday's Kansas Cup at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Napier said the Tigers "come as a surprise to everybody," but became a top-10 team at National Duals Jan. 11-12.
"We went in unranked and then we knocked off several top-10 teams that were not even as close to as good as we were," Napier said. "We are just solid all the way through. I don't want to speak for the team, but I would rather be unranked.
"Just from personal experience, I have been ranked in the past and it kind of puts a target on your back and everyone is gunning for you," he added. "When you are not ranked, no one really sees you coming. When you are as tough as we are and not ranked, I like it better that way."
Inman, the reigning MIAA Wrestler of the Week, stands at 16-3 and had won seven straight matches entering Saturday.
"Doesn't surprise me a single bit," Napier said. "I have always thought and told people that are close to us that Jon Inman is going to be a big surprise just because of the way that he wrestles.
"He wrestles real tough and wears guys down," Napier added. "He is the most fun person to watch on our team, and I noticed that as soon as he came in last year and redshirted, so I am not surprised in the least that he is doing so well."
FHSU normally has three seniors in the starting lineup with Napier, 157-pounder Mitchell Means and 197-pounder Tanner Kriss. The Tigers normally start five sophomores and two redshirt freshmen. Coach Chas Thompson said this winter is probably the most balanced team in his six years as head coach.
"It's a fun experience," Inman said. "I really enjoy it. I think we have really good camaraderie on our team, and I think we really push each other, and we really care for each other. I love being on this team and wrestling for this team.
"Being a freshman, I know some places, maybe the older guys can kind of dog on the younger guys," he added. "But they really open themselves up -- it's been awesome."
Napier has focused on improving his fitness this winter. Entering Saturday, he was 17-3 and defeated University of Nebraska-Kearney's Brock Coutu, 8-7, in a dual last Wednesday. Coutu was ranked No. 2 nationally. Inman and Napier were two of three wins for the Tigers against the two-time defending national champion Lopers.
Napier and Means are roommates. Both were sick earlier in the week, and Means missed Wednesday's dual. Napier was cleared shortly before the dual started, built a big lead and then held on despite two stalling points. Napier took several minutes to recover after the tough match and even had to leave for a few minutes later in the dual when the sickness bothered him.
"Of course, we want to be 100 percent," Thompson said. "But I remember when I was a kid when Michael Jordan played when he was sick a couple of times, and that's when he had some of his best games. I actually ... wrestled several times when I was sick and wrestled some of my better matches, too."
Napier finished 13-3 two years ago with the Tigers, but went 1-2 at nationals. He went 31-8 last winter, but couldn't reach nationals. This year, Thompson has Napier do 60 to 75 minutes of cardio three times a week to build up his leg strength. Thompson estimated Napier runs around 30 miles a week. Napier has focused on better nutrition, too. On the mat, Napier has looked to ride opponents more.
"Then, when he cuts the weight a little bit late, he can run two or three miles and it doesn't make his legs feel like jello," Thompson said. "Normal people who are in shape can run three miles and their legs don't feel too bad, but if you have been cutting weight and your nutrition is slightly deprived, it will weigh on you right before a weigh in."
Inman finished 11-4 his redshirt season and has impressed all year, including 2-0 in duals against University of Central Oklahoma and Kearney, a pair of top-five teams.
"He is a very impressive kid," Thompson said. "He is mature. He has went overseas and wrestled. Done that two summers in a row. He has been to some big national tournaments a couple of times as a high schooler, so he doesn't have intimidation factor that a lot of freshmen will have."