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Tiger coach pleased with wrestlers thus far

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University wrestling coach Chas Thompson has been very pleased with his team during the first few weeks of competition. Thompson, in his fourth season with the Tigers, believes the team could be a historically great squad.

"It's up there. We have to wait till March before we can have that talk, but it's a really talented team," Thompson said. " ...This team could rank up there with even some of the best in the last 10 to 12 years."

On Saturday, the Tigers will host the annual FHSU/Bob Smith Open. Start time is 9 a.m. at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Fort Hays has just two seniors on the squad, but 10 juniors, including 141-pounder C.J. Napier, the current MIAA Wrestler of the Week. He won the Elite Division at the University of Nebraska-Kearney tournament.

"We are planning on being a top-five team in the nation," Napier said. "We plan on winning nationals. I truly believe that if everybody on the team performs the way that we should, then there is no reason why we can't win a national title. We are really confident."

Also in the Elite Division, junior Tanner Kriss finished runner-up at 197 pounds in the Elite Division. Sophomore Josh Rodriguez was a third-place finisher at 174 in the Amateur Division, while 125-pounder Adam Ludwin and 149-pounder Brad Little each finished fifth. Ludwin will end up redshirting the season.

In addition, FHSU also returns senior 165-pounder Travis Budke, a Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate who redshirted last year; junior 157-pounder Derek Koehn; junior 149-pounder Mitchell Means and junior 165-pounder Sam Thoman, wrestlers who all have plenty of experience. Thompson has mixed and matched lineups early on because of the Tigers' dual schedule this season. FHSU could have around 20 duals this winter and some wrestlers could be around 50 matches. All of the varsity wrestlers are expected to be healthy for Saturday.

"Had a week where we sat Koehn, Thoman and Budke; another week sitting other guys like Means and Napier, trying to be healthy and not trying to rush anything this year," Thompson said.

Budke, who experienced success at TMP, Pratt Community College and Fort Hays, has improved more this season, a change that Thompson said is sometimes difficult for a senior.

"He is doing some more stuff for us, and doing some stuff that he normally doesn't do on his feet, and he is committing to rides and getting turns on top, which are some of the things that he needed to work on," Thompson said. "We all have our weaknesses. We have taken the time to sit down with him and let him know what his weaknesses are and trying to improve on it. He is doing it. He has done a great job."