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Tigers' Napier plays it cool

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University junior wrestler C.J. Napier is a non-chalant kind of guy.

He doesn't let much bother him, and it translates to the mat. Despite being ranked No. 5 in NCAA Division II, Napier (26-4) doesn't pile up many lopsided victories.

Of his 26 wins, 20 have been by decision and nine have been by two or fewer points. In comparison, junior Tanner Kriss, ranked No. 4 at 197 pounds, is 21-4 and won only nine of his matches by decision and none by two or fewer points.

Napier's results sometimes can make head coach Chas Thompson nervous.

"He scares me when he wrestles, but he does (win)," Thompson said. "He is consistently winning and doing a good job of it this year."

It's true. His 85.7 winning percentage is the second best on the team, but Thompson said it would be nice if they weren't quite as close.

"My thing is, he's winning by one point a lot. I want him to win by two or three points," Thompson said.

However, Thompson realizes that's not Napier's style.

Napier is a counter wrestler with an almost Spider Sense-like ability to feel for when opponents are going to make a move, and when they do, he knows exactly how to react.

"It's not that I'm a lazy wrestler," he said. "I'm smart. I don't force things that aren't there. I pretty much take what I can get and make sure I can get the win."

On the mat, Napier is a hunter.

While wrestling on his feet, he maintains his distance, waiting patiently for his opponent to make a mistake. Sometimes, that can take a while, especially when his opponent is nervous about making a move against the elite wrestler.

"He wrestles kind of far away kind of like I do, which is why a lot of times in the practice room we'll wind up not doing anything," said Napier's practice partner Mitchell Means, a former all-American who wrestles at 149 pounds. "Half the time, we are just standing there."

Means, who also is Napier's roommate, said Napier is actually hyper off the mat and in the practice room. He always is energetic and cracking jokes.

That changes once competition begins, though.

"On the mat, he's calm and patient," Means said.

His wrestling style results in low-scoring matches that sometimes are decided by riding points -- something Napier typically has the advantage in.

That's what happened last Friday against Lindenwood University's Craig Chiles.

The match was tied 2-2 after Napier twice allowed Chiles to escape, and with a riding-point advantage in the third period, he just didn't allow his opponent to take him down.

Napier said he never got nervous about giving up a late score and losing that match.

"I make everyone else nervous," Napier said. "Not trying to be cocky, but I knew he wasn't going to score on me."

That confidence and patience are reasons why he's won nearly 90 percent of his matches and is one of FHSU's top contenders for all-American honors this season.

"It's kind of my personality," Napier said. "It's laid back and don't do much. I wish I was more fun to watch and more of a high-octane wrestler like Tanner Kriss or somebody like that. But that's how I've been my whole life."

MIAA Tourney debut

FHSU took its lumps Sunday as it rested several of its top wrestlers in a 23-14 dual loss to Truman State University, which was previously winless in conference action, but Thompson made that decision for a reason.

His wrestlers needed rest, and he wanted to save them for the more important meet -- the conference tournament on Sunday at Edmond, Okla.

"I'm not going to say the dual backfired on us, because it didn't," Thompson said. "I knew there was a chance we might not win the dual, but my captains came to me and said they were banged up, sore and needed a little rest. I agreed with them."

With conference expansion, this is the first year of wrestling in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.

In the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, the conference tournament also doubled as the region tournament.

This tournament doesn't have as much on the line as the RMAC tournament did, but it's still important to the Tigers.

It's an opportunity for bragging rights and another chance to get a seeding advantage against University of Nebraska-Kearney wrestlers who will be at FHSU's region tournament.

"It's more monumental," Thompson said of the MIAA's first tournament.