Napier's title makes history for FHSU
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University senior 141-pounder C.J. Napier is a NCAA Division I-caliber talent who opened his career at University of Nebraska.
FHSU coach Chas Thompson said Napier is better than any opponent on his feet.
Still, Napier hasn't earned All-American honors in his first two seasons with the Tigers. Napier faltered at nationals two years ago and regionals last season.
This winter, Napier again is FHSU's top wrestler.
On Sunday, Napier added a historic title at the MIAA Wrestling Championships at Gross Memorial Coliseum, in his final tune-up for regionals in two weeks.
Napier became the first Tiger to capture an individual MIAA title, the second season the league has sponsored wrestling.
"We just need to keep him rolling," Thompson said. "He could have had a better tournament (Sunday). He is looking good, though."
Napier finished 3-0, including a 6-4 decision against rival Brock Coutu of University of Nebraska-Kearney in the championship. Napier, ranked fourth nationally, moved to 23-4 overall.
"He has had a good career regardless, but he wants to reach that goal of being an All-American -- and getting that goal of being a national champion," Thompson said. "He just has to get to this national tournament and do the things that he knows he can do. It's something that weighs heavy on his mind and mine as well."
FHSU finished fourth in the seven-team tournament with 63 points, 4.5 behind third place University of Central Oklahoma. UNK won with 109 points, and Lindenwood (Mo.) University was second with 84.5 points. Redshirt freshman Jon Inman (21-5) collected MIAA Freshman of the Year honors after he took second at 184 pounds.
"Super proud of Jon Inman," Thompson said.
Junior Josh Rodriguez, senior Tanner Kriss and junior Trey Page collected runner-up honors at 174, 197 and 285, respectively.
Sophomore Adam Ludwin was third at 125 pounds. Kriss, hurt for most of the season, injury defaulted out of the final because of a knee injury.
Senior Mitchell Means also injury defaulted at 157 after some swelling on his knee.
Sophomore 149-pounder Noah Killip, also injured the majority of the winter, sat out after he strained his hamstring wrestling Means in practice. Thompson said Killip, out for most of the season, probably could have wrestled, but FHSU decided to sit him and rest him for regionals.
"Overall, I am happy," Thompson said. "We are still sitting pretty good in our region for good seeds."
Napier collected a 14-3 victory in the first round, a 7-5 win in the second round and then a 6-4 victory in the championship. Coutu and Napier have matched up several times.
Napier took a lead late in the first period and later trailed 4-3. Thompson thought Napier "was about to lose" the match. But Napier came back with a reversal in the final 15 seconds to take the lead and hold on.
"It was a little bit slower tempo than it had been in the past," Thompson said. "Just like the last time we wrestled this year, Coutu could keep getting our legs, and he could stop our shots. We used to be able to finish on him fairly easy, but now he has scouted us well, and he is a very strong guy."
At 174, Rodriguez was tied inside the last minute against Kearney's Patrick Martinez but was called for a stalling point late and lost 2-1.
"We have got to do something, too," Thompson said. "I am not going to complain on a call when the referee calls that on us. We need to find a way to get out of that overhook or find some offense."
At 184, Inman led 14-9 into the final 45 seconds against Lindenwood's John McArdle.
"We probably got one stolen from us at '84s," Thompson said.
McArdle hit a desperation move and pinned Inman, one of FHSU's top guys all season.
"That guy is really funky," Thompson said. "He is a juco national champion and has a lot of kill shots. He has got a lot of moves that go feet to back and pins people. We should have been a little bit more careful."