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Heart of Tigers' wrestling lineup faces questions

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@daulynews.net

Several of Fort Hays State University's most experienced and top wrestlers have either struggled lately or shuffled in and out of the lineup.

That especially includes 165-pound redshirt senior Travis Budke, a Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate, 149-pound junior Mitchell Means and 157-pound senior Derek Koehn.

This past weekend, Fort Hays went 2-1 at the Midwest Duals in Kearney, Neb. FHSU, ranked No. 15 in NCAA Division II, lost 21-12 to No. 10-ranked Colorado Mesa, and defeated Hastings (Neb.) College (44-6) and Northern (S.D.) State (32-7).

Means, an All-American two years ago and a national qualifier last season, is 12-6 and 6-5 against Division II opponents. Koehn is 22-8 and 7-6 versus Division II opponents. They've both been in the national rankings this season but have since fallen out.

"He has got to turn it around," Coach Chas Thompson said. "No doubt about it. Him and Derek Koehn. They are in the middle of the lineup. They should be the heart of our lineup, and getting us good early dual leads, and it didn't happen that way at National Duals (in early Jan.) Those two, combined, went 0-5."

Means is strong on top -- in a home dual against Adams State (Colo.) College last week, he trailed 9-3 before he pinned his opponent midway through the second period. Koehn lost his match with a late mistake.

"He is hitting a rough patch," Thompson said of Means. "... We have got some things that we have got to change. He gets exploited when he is on bottom sometimes."

At 174 pounds, Budke, a national qualifier two seasons ago and a former junior college All-American, has split time with sophomore Josh Rodriguez. Last season, Budke redshirted, and Rodriguez shared the weight class with Benny Armstrong. This winter, Budke is 13-7, while Rodriguez is 14-5. The two have split two challenge matches, and Thompson said the pair will have another challenge match. The winner of that match will stay at 174 the rest of the year.

"In the sport of wrestling, you do a challenge system. You know, football, basketball, the coach picks who starts," Thompson said. "He picks who he thinks is the best starter. ... In this sport, the majority of teams let the wrestlers decide who is going to be the starter by who wins."