Highlighted by a 141-pound championship by Brandon Ball and four runner-up finishes, Fort Hays State wrestling put forth a strong showing in the Bob Smith Open on Sunday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Ball, ranked No. 4 in the nation, went 4-0 on the day and picked up a 5-0 decision in the final over Arkansas Little Rock's Conner Ward.
Redshirt freshman Jonathan Ball (149 pounds), sophomore Efe Osaghae (157), redshirt freshman Aryus Jones (165) and senior Nick Meck (174) all earned second-place finishes. Meck didn’t wrestle in the final due to injury.
FHSU coach Chas Thompson said it was a productive day overall for the No. 16-ranked Tigers.
“Very happy for Brandon,” Thompson said. “... Division I opponents beat us (in the other three first-place matches). All matches we could have won. Jonathan was winning the entire match, Aryus was back and forth the entire time and Efe had a very tight match. They wrestled well. I would like to see them wrestle better, but I’m not down on them. They were solid. We looked really good in the middle and obviously some other places too. “
Brandon Ball picked up his 12th individual title as a Tiger, winning the Bob Smith Open for the first time after finishing second in the tournament last year.
“It felt really good,” Ball said. “It was nice to wrestle at 141 since I wrestled at 149 the first tournament. I had a good day and the team did solid so I was happy about that.”
The junior from Great Bend defeated David Hunter (St. Mary) with a 15-0 technical foul in the first round and then pinned Fort Hays' Josh Lenker and Newman's Baylor Smith before staying in control against Ward in the final.
“Just mainly keep the pressure on him and keep working,” Ball said of the game plan for the title match. “That’s my goal with every match, just to wear them out and push them to their limits.”
Meck, who transferred to Fort Hays after earning NAIA All-America honors at York College in Nebraska, picked up a 3-2 decision over Western State’s Jimmy LaConte in the semifinals, but suffered a minor injury in process, Thompson said. Oklahoma State's Travis Wittlake won the 174-pound title with Meck's injury default.
“It’s actually not a very serious injury, but it’s something we want to take care of before we go into break. We might need to rest him,” Thompson said. “… It was just a precautionary measure we took. It was the trainer’s decision. I told them it was their call. Would we like to see him in wrestle in the final at home? Yes, but his full health coming around for the second semester is a little bit more important for us. He had a great day.”
Osaghae advanced to the title match at 157 pounds with a 2-1 decision over Oklahoma State’s Wyatt Sheets before dropping a 5-3 decision in the final to OSU’s Jonce Blaylock.
Jonathan Ball won a 6-5 decision over Oklahoma State’s Dusty Hone in the semifinals before losing a 13-5 decision in the 149-pound title bout.
Jones pinned Billy Higgins (Northern Colorado) in the semifinals and then lost an 8-7 decision in the 165-pound final to Robert Denney from Oklahoma State.
“Aryus gets me excited just like Brandon Ball got me excited when Brandon was a freshman,” Thompson said. “And the same goes for Jonathan. They both have areas they need to improve in, but they’re both wrestling at a high level for being in their second year in college.”
Fort Hays freshman Cole Zebley (unattached) placed third at 133 pounds and senior Micquille Robinson took third at 184 pounds. Tigers' freshman Isaiah Luellen (unattached) took fourth place at 165 pounds.
The Tigers will take part in their first MIAA dual of the season at 7 p.m. on Friday at Central Oklahoma.
“As a team, we look very solid,” Brandon Ball said. “Coach recruited really good kids this year and our future looks bright.”