The Erik Wince era won’t officially start for a couple more months for Fort Hays State University wrestling, but the Tigers offered a sneak peek Wednesday of what they’ll look like under their new coach.
About a couple hundred fans were on hand at Gross Memorial Coliseum for FHSU’s Black and Gold Scrimmage, which was Wince’s first chance to see his team in a match setting.
"I think it was a good night, overall," Wince said. "Our big goal tonight was to get some kind of normalcy, bring wrestling back. The way it ended last year was so sour. We wanted to get back out here and just get back in front of a crowd. The fans were great, they came in and donated to the food drive. Everybody social distanced and was masked up.
"I think they saw kind of the future. We saw a lot of freshmen come out and make some noise. There was some aggressive wrestling. I think the big thing is we now see where we’re at going into second semester when we get started again."
The scrimmage was comprised of 10 matches. The Gold team took a 24-20 victory.
"It’s good to just get woken up again and get hit in the mouth," senior 174-pounder Marty Verhaeghe said. "That’s always my thing — the more you put yourself out in a tough environment, the better you’re going to be prepared. It was good. I was really looking forward to it. Gave you a little pressure, little pre-match anxiety and everything to kind of get those nerves out of the way. Now, it’s like, we’re back. We’re back."
Verhaeghe was of one three wrestlers who earned pins in the main event, along with A.J. Cooper (285) and Mason Turner (125). In the preliminary rounds, Matthew Gottschalk recorded a pin and Cody Hicks took an 18-2 win by technical fall.
"It’s one of things, you’ve got to beat off the rust," Verhaeghe said. "I hadn’t wrestled in a while. When you don’t wrestle — for me, it’s about a six, seventh months — it’s hard. It’s a challenge.
"I’m glad we had the opportunity to get back out here and scrap."
Wince was hired as FHSU head coach last summer to replace Chas Thompson, who resigned after a successful 12-year run leading the Tigers. Wince has coached at several different levels, most recently serving as an assistant at American University (Washington, D.C.), an NCAA Division I program.
The North Carolina native said the pandemic has made getting up to speed in a new program a bit more challenging, but he’s encouraged with the progress being made.
"It’s been difficult," Wince said. "When I’m trying to learn names and faces and they’re wearing a mask, it makes it real tough. But I tell you what, we’ve got an awesome group of kids. The guys I inherited from coach Thompson, they’re living right, they’re training right.
"I’m just really tying to keep that culture building on what they started. They were in a good place last year and coach Thompson left me in a great situation that I think I can build on. These guys are buying into the lifestyle that I preach, keeping your social life in check and avoiding COVID-19 as much as possible. They’re doing all the right things. They’re eating right, they’re lifting, they’re doing the runs and getting practices in — as much as we can do right now and still be safe health-wise. We’re in really good shape."
The Tigers return a strong core from last year including national qualifiers Turner and Verhaeghe. The national tournament was canceled last year because of COVID-19.
"It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through," Verhaeghe said of not getting the chance to compete at nationals. It will never probably feel right; I’ll always think back to it. But if that’s my worst problem in life, then I’m pretty blessed.
"... But it gives me another year to think about it, and I’ve got to prove something."
Verhaeghe said it’s been easy to buy into Wince’s philosophies and coaching style.
"Honestly, this preseason and everything we did was really good," Verhaeghe said. "It was all fundamentals. We were really able to do some great workouts, without the contact obviously. The situation being the way it was, we couldn’t have done it any better.
"I’m just buying into whatever he says. He’s been around everyone — Division I, Division II, Division III. He knows what he’s talking about. I’m just trying to do everything he says, following it to a T."
The Tigers’ schedule hasn’t been finalized, but Wince said the team is tentatively planning on opening the season in the mid-January.
Black and Gold Scrimmage results
Fort Hays State
285 prelim — Caldwell, Gold, def. Flax, Black, 3-2 dec.
157 prelim — Hicks, Black, def. Green, Gold, tech. fall, 18-2
149 prelim — Zebley, Gold, def. Edmonson, Black, 15-8 dec.
125 — Gottschalk. Black, def. Cole, Gold, fall (2:58)
174 — Verhaeghe, Black, def. Herrick, Gold, fall (4:43)
125 — Turner, Gold, def. Green, Gold, fall (1:19).
197 — Henry, Black, def. Robles, Gold, 7-6 dec.
285 — Cooper, Gold, def. Caldwell, Black, fall (2:09).
149 — Zebley, Gold, def. Lenker, Black, 6-4.
157 — Scantlin, Gold, def. Hicks, 6-0 dec.