Tigers win on senior night
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Fort Hays State University senior C.J. Napier, a native of Columbus, Kan., spent his first season as a collegiate wrestler at the University of Nebraska before transferring to FHSU for his sophomore season.
Since then he's become one of the Tigers' best wrestlers. He entered Thursday's dual against Central Missouri -- the final home dual of the season for No. 6 FHSU -- with a 19-4 record and ranked No. 5 in NCAA Division II at 141 pounds.
He made the most of senior night by earning a 10-2 major decision win against UCM's Eric Mateo, the second of three major decisions by Tiger seniors in a 23-15 FHSU win over its MIAA foe at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"It's kind of an emotional night. It just makes me feel nostalgic," Napier said. "I've been here for three years now and it just feels good getting a win and everything. Feels like everything is coming together, all of us seniors getting major decisions and wrestling really well. It was a great night."
All four of FHSU's seniors were honored before the start of Thursday's dual. Of the four, three were able to wrestle and all earned major decisions: Rory Wilkinson at 133 pounds over Andy Robinson 14-1, Mitchell Means at 157 pounds over Brennan Johnson 9-0, and Napier over Mateo.
The only senior not to wrestle was 197-pounder Tanner Kriss, who is still recovering from a knee injury suffered at the National Duals in January. He is expected to be able to return for the MIAA Tournament on Feb. 16, hosted by FHSU.
"They wanted to end on an exclamation point and all three got majors. They ended their home careers in the dual in dominant fashion," FHSU wrestling coach Chas Thompson said of the seniors. "Hell of a team effort. We knew we had to get bonus points out there. It did get close at the end."
FHSU held on to a comfortable advantage most of the dual and led 19-9 going into the second to last match of the night. But in the 197-pound match, UCM's Todd Brier earned the only pin of the dual over FHSU freshman Chad Rous, who was filling in for the injured Kriss.
The win earned the Mules six points and cut the Tiger lead to 19-15 with one match remaining, leaving the outcome in the hands of heavyweight wrestler Trey Page, ranked No. 7 in the nation.
Page, a junior, didn't disappoint, cruising to an 8-0 major decision win over UCM's Jacob Clark to close out the dual.
"It allowed me to open up though, because I knew I had to get the win in order for the team to win," Page said of the match loss at 197 pounds. "It put a little pressure on me, but I don't shy away from pressure I guess. It kind of scared me a little bit, I'm not going to lie, because I knew if I lost we lost the dual. But the match started good and I got a good early lead on him."
FHSU won six of the night's 10 matches, five of the six wins coming via major decision. Redshirt freshman Jon Inman earned the other major decision over UCM's Joshua Ploof at 184 pounds, 10-2. The other FHSU win belonged to 165-pounder Bradley Little, a 6-1 win over Josh Thompson.
The only significant loss for FHSU came in the dual's opening match, when UCM freshman Malacai Collins upset sophomore Adam Ludwin, the nation's No. 8 wrestler at 125 pounds. Collins won the match 7-3 in extra time to give the Mules a 3-0 advantage.
"That hurts. The thing is we are going to get to come back to conference and try to redeem the loss," Thompson said. "Adam will bounce back. He's beaten himself enough over it. I didn't say too much to him after the loss. But that hurts us. It really does."
Ludwin defeated Collins in an 8-7 decision in November at the Central Missouri Open in the quarterfinals of the 125-pound tournament.
Central Missouri (6-5, 1-3 MIAA) also got wins on Thursday from Frank Cagnina, No. 3 nationally at 149 pounds, over Noah Killip 11-5, and Tyler Loethen over Josh Rodriguez 4-2 at 174 pounds.
"I think it was a good night overall for the team. We kind of got exposed a little bit. We know what we have to work on and luckily we still have some time to do that," Page said.
"For the seniors, it was nice to go out with them on top. Rory, he's been a good leader for us this year. The same with Mitchell. The same with C.J. I wish Tanner could have wrestled, but luckily I'll get to beat on him at practice here in a couple of weeks when he comes back."
FHSU (8-4-1, 2-2 MIAA) will wrap up its regular season with two road duals, the first on Saturday at Lindenwood, the second on Tuesday at Truman.