Koehn off to hot start for Tigers
By CONOR NICHOLL
On Dec. 1, Fort Hays State University junior Derek Koehn finished as runner-up at 157 pounds at the Tigers' Bob Smith Open, a meet with more than 300 wrestlers. Koehn's face was bruised and cut in several places, including a long bruise under his right eye. It marked a normal day for Koehn, from Pittsburg and one of FHSU's most experienced wrestlers.
"My high school coach always taught me, your head is your first line of defense, so that's how I have always wrestled. I don't really go a weekend with wrestling without looking like this," Koehn said.
The physical Koehn has consistently improved and has enjoyed a strong start this winter. Last year, he qualified for nationals for the first time, but finished 0-2 and 25-15 for the season. This year, Koehn is already 17-3, leads FHSU in victories and is the reigning MIAA Wrestler of the Week. Fort Hays was competing at the Raven Duals in Atchinson on Saturday.
"He has continued to get better since he has been at Fort Hays State and that doesn't always happen," coach Chas Thompson said.
Koehn grew up with his brother, Tyler, 13 months younger and currently a senior wrestler at NCAA Division I University of Nebraska. Tyler Koehn qualified for the NCAA championships last season.
"We used to battle down in the basement, and we both made each other pretty tough," Derek Koehn said.
This season, three Tigers are ranked nationally -- senior Tanner Kriss is No. 6 at 197 pounds, junior C.J. Napier is No. 7 at 141 pounds and junior Mitchell Means is No. 8 at 149 pounds. Koehn, though, has yet to break into the national rankings for Fort Hays, receiving votes in the national team rankings. Still, Koehn has performed well against top competition.
"Becoming a man and he has gotten a lot better on his feet, and a lot better in every aspect of the game, but on his feet, he has gotten a lot better," Thompson said.
At the Bob Smith, he went 4-1 and lost in the final to Air Force's Josh Kreimier, a NCAA national qualifier who earned Wrestler of the Meet honors.
"Just staying mentally focused and not letting little mistakes get to me down," Koehn said. "Always knowing that I can get in the match and I can get that takedown. Just being mentally confident that I can get that takedown, get that point, get that escape when I need it."
Koehn scored a 12-1 victory against the MIAA University of Central Oklahoma's Hunter Smith en route to the final.
"Placing higher than people who are going to be in my region is a good leg up for when it comes to seeding time at regionals," he said. "Even the finals match, I felt like I did wrestle that kid pretty solidly other than giving up two huge mistakes, I was in there for the most part and I should have capitalized on a couple of opportunities."
During the tournament, several Tiger wrestlers approached Koehn and talked to him about the matches.
"I feel like I do do a good job of being that rock, of being that anchor and someone that the other guys can look up to," he said. "I hope that they look at me and wrestle the way that I do and be like me in some way. Like a lot of them come up to me today and talk to me about my matches and said how physical I am and how I want to wrestle like that and how I want to learn."
Last Sunday, Koehn finished first at Newman Invitational in Wichita with a 3-1 record. After a first round bye, he earned a 7-2 victory and then beat UCO's Cory Dauphin 3-2. Dauphin was ranked seventh nationally. Koehn had lost 2-0 to Dauphin in a 22-12 dual loss on Dec. 7. Then, Koehn beat Ouachita Baptist's Bobby Williams, 2-1, to win the classification. Williams was ranked No. 3 nationally.
"Some guys plateau," Thompson said. "Koehn has continually improved as a wrestler and it's good to see it out there."